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This is no fight for commission

Published Sep. 29, 2005

A developer's proposal to build a 150-unit assisted living facility near the entrance of GlenLakes Golf and Country Club has some residents of the upscale, gated community worried. They fear more traffic and less privacy and lower property values. Moreover, some believe the developer deceived them by not disclosing his ALF plan at the time they purchased their homes.

Those who oppose the project have carried their grievances to the Hernando County Commission, asking the board to deny the application of the developer, Ralph Glover.

But they have taken their protest to the wrong forum. They should direct their objections to Glover, not the commissioners.

The county Planning and Zoning Board registered its approval of the two-story ALF in July. That panel fulfilled its responsibility to ensure that the project fits in with the comprehensive management plan and that the infrastructure necessary to support the facility is in place.

Normally, the Planning and Zoning Board's decision to grant a special use permit for such a development is final. But the County Commission, apparently in response to the residents' concerns, decided to intervene with a rare review of this one. At an Aug. 3 meeting, the commissioners accepted comment from residents and the developer's representative and asked for more information about how the ALF might affect security at GlenLakes' gated entrance. The commissioners agreed to revisit the issue in a few weeks.

Security at the private development is none of the commission's business, and neither is the possibility of increased traffic into the community. Those are issues that must be worked out between the developer and residents.

The only legitimate interest the commission has in this dispute is the concern some residents have raised about the ALF being in the red, or most vulnerable, flood zone. Because it fronts U.S. 19 on the west side, the ALF is in a primary evacuation area in the event of a hurricane. Obviously, relocating those residents will require considerable resources during an emergency, and it is reasonable for commissioners to require the developer to satisfy all concerns on that point.

But that is where the commission should draw the line. For the board to meddle in a dispute that is clearly private is pointless and a waste of the county staff's resources. Commissioner Chris Kingsley astutely summarized that sentiment when he said, "This is an internal squabble government is being dragged into."

At the same time, residents who oppose the project might want to rethink their position.

How could an ALF negatively affect the quality of life residents now enjoy behind the walls of GlenLakes? The land already is zoned commercial, and it would seem that an ALF would be a better fit with the existing residential community than, for instance, a fast-food restaurant, a bar or a convenience store. The developer could submit plans for one of those uses any day, and it would be legal suicide for the commission to deny it.

Glover, the developer, should have kept GlenLakes residents better informed of his long-term plans. On that score, residents have every right to feel cheated. However, there is no law that requires him to be a better communicator.

This dispute is another instructive example of the wisdom found in the Latin phrase caveat emptor. The more well-known English translation is "Let the buyer beware."

The complaining residents' beef is with Mr. Glover. They should not expect the commission to fight this battle for them.