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Long-planned development may shrink

Citrus County's largest coastal condominium project _ at least on paper _ took one big step Thursday toward becoming much smaller.

The latest developers of River Cove Landings, the partly built condo project overlooking the Crystal River, earned the county planning board's blessing to scale back their design to 78 residential units.

That's a quarter of the 320 units approved for the site on Fort Island Trail two decades ago, before growth management laws and the Comprehensive Plan limited coastal development to one unit per 40 acres.

Dutch investors who bought the 31-acre site and nearby wastewater treatment plant at auction last year figure less is more: The site's sewer plant can only support about 78 units, and a waterfront home could command as much as several condos, attorney Clark Stillwell said.

"This is really in the public interest to reduce that number," said Dwight Hooper, a member of the Planning and Development Review Board that supported the plan, 3-1.

The development agreement goes to the County Commission next month for a vote.

The gated community already has 22 condominiums. Six more units are unfinished shells, casualties of a previous developer that folded under foreclosure.

Several residents have sued the new developer, River Cove Landings L.C., asking where the community's dues have gone as the swimming pool, tennis court and clubhouse have fallen into disrepair.

Residents fear the problem could grow worse if the new plan is approved. They bought into River Cove Landings thinking the community upkeep costs would be divided between 320 owners, said Karen Maller, an attorney representing several condo owners. Under the revamped plan, she said, there would be only 45 condos to split the costs.

The remaining 33 units would be single-family homes.

"The real issue here is the public interest," Maller said. "The public was promised back in the 1980s this would be a development of a certain size."

Her argument swayed PDRB chairman Ray Hughes, who cast the only vote against the plan.

"There were promises made to these condo owners," Hughes said.

The other planning board members, however, looked at the big picture for River Cove Landings, a project that was heavily damaged in the 1993 no-name storm and met financial ruin with its last two developers.

"I seriously like the idea of reducing the density from 320 to 70-some units," said board member J.J. Bard.

"It might not be good for the condo association, but it's good for the county."

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

The next step

The development agreement for River Cove Landings will come before the County Commission for a workshop 2 p.m. Dec. 10, and for a public hearing at 5:01 p.m. Dec. 17. The commission meets on the third floor of the Masonic Building, 111 W Main St., Inverness.

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