The Citrus County Commission delayed action late Tuesday on the planned Halls River Retreat, a 64-unit condominium complex proposed on the banks of the Halls River.
After more than three hours on a public hearing, commissioners voted to return the proposal to county staff for further review.
Clearwater developer F. Blake Longacre introduced a last-minute design change Tuesday evening, eliminating three buildings that would have destroyed about 0.24 acres of river wetlands.
Instead, he proposed placing those nine condos atop the remaining 18 buildings, turning some of the four-story towers into five stories.
Longacre also agreed to limit his design to the 19 boat slips allowed under county code, instead of pressing for 20 boat slips along the existing canal.
Both changes brought Longacre's proposal into compliance with Land Development Code provisions from which he previously sought exemptions.
"When I came to Citrus County, it was not my intent to become the most controversial figure since the (Crystal River) nuclear power plant," Longacre said.
Several builders and real estate agents applauded the plan, saying the $15-million project would boost the tax base and add jobs without burdening the schools or other county services.
"Don't say no to the man who's trying to help Citrus County," real estate agent Ernest Woods said.
But the 50 seats in the third-story Masonic Building commission chambers quickly filled with residents opposing the project. More critics spilled out into the hallway and down to overflow seating in the second-story hallway outside the Guardian ad Litem offices, where a television broadcast the hearing.
Some 400 letters poured into county offices over the past few days in opposition to the project. In addition, Save the Homosassa River Alliance member Winston Perry presented a petition with signatures of more than 2,500 people against the project.
"Your very own Citrus County environmental and engineering experts that we pay for, and that you have hired to advise you, have all recommended that the project is inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan and the Land Development Code, and recommend denial of this project," Perry said.
"How much more conclusive can these expert opinions be?" he asked.