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Planner overstepped authority on school

Nick Nicholson is chairman of the Hernando County Planning and Zoning Commission. He is one of five members whose job is to make recommendations about land-use issues and to ensure that those decisions protect the integrity of the county's comprehensive management plan.

We reiterate that job description for Nicholson's benefit because he apparently believes that his responsibilities also include influencing policy for the School Board.

At a Planning and Zoning meeting Monday, Nicholson became the swing vote that denied the School Board's application to rezone property at Deer Street and Linden Drive to build a K-8 school. Other than a property on Elgin Boulevard, the Deer Street property is the School Board's most coveted site. Because it is located in a mostly developed residential area, the School Board needs the site to alleviate crowding in other Spring Hill schools.

Nicholson acknowledged the need for a school on the Deer Street property. "I believe a school belongs" there, he said. But Nicholson did not oppose the rezoning, as did his colleagues, Anna Liisa Covell and Anthony Palmieri, because of concerns that the school would violate the comp plan by creating too much traffic on non-collector roads.

Nicholson just wants the School Board to do it his way.

He wants the school to be built on only half of the 41 acres. He also wants it to be just a K-5 elementary school.

With those presumptuous remarks, Nicholson overstepped his duty as a planning commission member. He is tasked with weighing such applications on their merit and compliance with the comp plan. His personal opinions about how the School Board intends to provide for the needs of students, in terms of facilities or age groupings, is really none of his business.

It is understandable, however, why Nicholson may be comfortable expressing his opinions about how the School Board conducts business. His wife, Sandra Nicholson, is a member of the board. And, although their views on the Deer Street proposal do not coincide, it is fair to suggest that the collective government resources available to them make the Nicholsons the most informed couple in the county on this particular issue.

The County Commission will now review the Planning and Zoning Commission's decision. The county commissioners have the authority to overrule the planners, and amend the comp plan to create a public overlay district for the school site. The County Commission has made much more far-reaching amendments to accommodate much more controversial proposals, so this process won't break any new ground.

But, given that the Planning Commission vote was 3-2, and the contradictions inherent in Nicholson's argument against the application, the county commissioners should give this issue intense scrutiny. If the county's comp plan does not allow a school to be built where it is most convenient to students and their families, then both the commission and the School Board have a broader debate to undertake.