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Decision aids school expansion

Thanks to an agreeable Planning and Development Review Board, the school district on Thursday avoided a potential headache in its efforts to relieve overcrowding at Crystal River High School.

The Citrus County School Board is in the final stages of buying a 150 vacant acres next to the school, property that had been part of a residential development called Betz Farm.

This could have meant expensive and time-consuming revisions to the development plans for Betz Farm, an unbuilt 520-acre project that sandwiches a stretch of Turkey Oak Drive. Specifically, the southern tract would have to be changed on the plans from cluster housing to school use.

But because the change will not increase the number of housing units or decrease the amount of open space in Betz Farm, county planners said the proposed revisions could be handled as minor plan changes that come before the County Commission, but not the state, for review.

That came as welcome news to the school district, which expects to make several changes in the coming months to the J-shaped property that curls around the school.

The district intends to move some athletic fields and agricultural fields onto the new property, freeing up space on the crowded high school campus for portable classrooms.

Also, plans call for cutting two access roads through the property _ one to N Turkey Oak Drive, another to NE Crystal Street _ to alleviate the traffic crunch on NE Eighth Avenue, the high school's only road, School Board attorney Richard "Spike" Fitzpatrick said.

As for the rest of Betz Farm, the revised plan calls for 1,014 cluster housing units and 528 condominiums to be built by 2012. The property is owned by the Tamposi family.

The planning board was agreeable to the revisions Thursday but will discuss them at another public hearing before making a recommendation. Then the plans would go to the County Commission for a final vote.

In other business:

Walden Woods expands: The planning board recommended approval of the first expansion phase of Walden Woods, a mobile home retirement community on U.S. 19 about a mile north of the Hernando County line.

Now the proposal goes to the County Commission, which will decide after its own hearings whether to rezone 9.9 acres from medium- to high-density residential. The plans for that tract call for 27 mobile homes, a clubhouse, a swimming pool and other recreational facilities.

"I think they got their ducks in a row," planning board member John Bard said. "I like the project."

The planning board will see more of the project next month, when the plans for the second expansion phase come up for review. Those plans include rezoning 35 acres from medium- to high-density residential and allowing 224 mobile homes, a tennis court and other amenities.

Together, the expansions would more than double the size of Walden Woods, which currently has about 221 mobile homes.

Senior home stalls: Deadlocked at 3-3, the board was unable to decide whether to allow Patricia Law to run a three-patient adult living facility in a single-family home at 4036 E Seminole Lane in Dunnellon.

Board members Miles Blodgett, Raymond Hughes and Marion Knudsen said the facility would change the character of the residential neighborhood, as feared by three neighbors who spoke at the hearing. But James Kellner, who supported the request with fellow board members John Bard and Walter Pruss, said similar adult living facilities exist in other neighborhoods throughout the county.

"That doesn't make it right," Hughes replied.

The planning board will revisit the issue at a future meeting, with the hope that the seventh board member or an alternate will be there to break the tie.

_ Bridget Hall Grumet can be reached at 860-7303 or bhallsptimes.com.

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