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RealtiCorp gives response to plans for annexed land

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is an open letter from RealtiCorp to the citizens of Citrus County concerning the plans for a tract of property the company owns that has recently been annexed by the city of Crystal River.

This information is meant to clarify RealtiCorp's recent permit application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the Preserve at Crystal River, a project located in Citrus County. We believe that this project has the potential to provide the residents of Crystal River and Citrus County with 170 acres of additional protected "regionally significant" land, new jobs and increased tax revenue.

The issues we would like to address here are: that 170-acre donation; comparison of the 170-acre parcel and the wetlands located inside the parameters of the Preserve at Crystal River; the project's relationship to the Citrus County Comprehensive Plan; and what the Preserve means to the people of Citrus County.

Donation of 170 acres

In conjunction with the permit application, RealtiCorp plans to purchase and donate 170 acres of ecologically sensitive land to the Crystal River State Buffer Preserve, which will be owned and managed for public benefit by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. This donation is in addition to the preservation of the 55 acres of wetlands on the project site, as well as vast areas set aside for flood plain compensation and storm water treatment. The proposed land donation will mean the removal of the development rights from more than 55 acres of upland habitat, superb long-term ecological benefits for the area and the potential for public access to 170 acres of otherwise private land.

Also, the 170-acre parcel is included in the DEP's defined Optimum Boundary limits of the Crystal River State Buffer Preserve and will contribute to the consolidation of the Preserve's boundary. This parcel is adjacent to a large, publicly owned and managed preserve, home to numerous wildlife species. It is considered by the DEP to be regionally significant.

Inclusion of this land into the Crystal River State Buffer Preserve assures long-term ecological benefits and will protect the Preserve for years to come by removing the possibility of development on adjacent land.

Comparing the two sites

The donated land will provide much greater long-term ecological benefits than the alternative, i.e., preservation of the wetlands that lie in the proposed development area. The value of any piece of land as a wildlife habitat is, in large part, predicated on its location in the greater landscape, such as access to wildlife corridors or other undeveloped lands.

The core two wetlands to be impacted within the project boundaries have both been impaired and degraded, as they are remnants of a once larger wetland, which was fragmented by U.S. 19 and Penn Drive.

The planned expansion of U.S. 19 to six lanes will further degrade these wetlands. The wetland fragments remain connected to one another only by culverts under the roads and to the Crystal River via a series of ditches and other wetlands west of U.S. 19. Roads north, west and south of these wetlands already act as barriers to wildlife. The inevitable development of the land east of the planned development will further isolate these wetlands from other undeveloped land and limit their value for wildlife.

Relationship to the Citrus County Comprehensive Plan

By all accounts, local officials have been making preparations for the development of this land for some time. Most recently, Citrus County adopted an Access Management Plan, which includes a new road that will pass directly through the project and the USACE jurisdictional wetlands on this site. The areas adjacent to U.S. 19 lie in a Corridor Planning Zone and were set up in the Citrus County Comprehensive Plan to address what county planners saw as an inevitable need to provide "significant commercial and office land use in the U.S. 19 study area by the year 2005."

The Citrus County Comprehensive Plan further identified the area along U.S. 19 as a Commercial Infill Area. It is mapped as General Commercial on the Generalized Future Land Use Map.

What the Preserve at Crystal River means to the people of Citrus

Since RealtiCorp's involvement in this project is as a land-trading company and not a developer, we are unable to address specific future development plans. However, we believe the Preserve at Crystal River project has the potential to provide the residents of Crystal River and Citrus County with: commercial opportunities and choices planned for by civic leaders; high-quality, low-density residential subdivisions; and new office space attracting professional service providers, such as doctors.

The project will also provide the city and county with the opportunity for significant job creation, as well as tax base growth, which can be used to fund additional police, fire and other public services such as the extension of wastewater lines to areas of the county not previously served.

We are also able to make the observation that, contrary to recent published reports, the commercial portion of the site plan submitted along with the USACE application is too small to accommodate a large, national discount department store.

We hope that this information provides you and your readers with some insight into the rationale behind the need for the proposed application to the USACE. If you have any questions regarding this report or the Preserve at Crystal River, please call Jon Salem at (864) 271-4700, or e-mail jsalemrealticorp.com.

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