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Brooksville, Hernando County avoid development suit _ for now

County commissioners came to the brink of suing the city of Brooksville over its plans for the Majestic Oaks subdivision on Tuesday before deciding to discuss their objections at a meeting with the City Council.

Though the county avoided a lawsuit, at least temporarily, the two sides are still at odds over the project, one of a series of development-related battles in recent years.

Larry Jennings, the county planning director, said the city is essentially granting Majestic Oaks the use of a county facility _ Mondon Hill Road _ without the county's permission.

City officials, meanwhile, said they were surprised at the county's stance because the project the council approved Monday is almost identical to one the county allowed in 2003.

The plan for Majestic Oaks also has been scaled down, partly because of the county's objections.

Last month, the City Council tentatively allowed the developers _ including longtime mining engineer Tommy Bronson _ to build 999 houses and 130,000 square feet of commercial space on 428 acres east of downtown; the property was annexed in December.

Monday's agreement allows 600 houses and 100,000 square feet of commercial space.

"That is very close to being synonymous with what the county has already approved," said Bill Geiger, the city's community development director.

Jennings said the county's objections revolve around concurrency, a planning term meaning adequate public facilities are available for any new development. Such a finding is required of each local government by its comprehensive plans.

With Majestic Oaks, the main issue is transportation concurrency, and specifically whether Mondon Hill Road has enough capacity to handle the additional traffic the project is expected to generate.

Jennings said the county does not make these findings until the developer is ready to build, and does so one section at a time.

The county has rezoned Majestic Oaks land to allow development at the same levels the city has. The county, however, has granted concurrency for only about 120 houses.

"The city is almost unilaterally granting concurrency without discussing it, without outlining all the things that concern the county," said Jennings, who offered another development option for comparison.

If Majestic Oaks' developers had chosen to remain in the county and use city utilities, Jennings said, "I can't imagine us granting concurrency for water and sewer without getting approval from the city."

He also said the language in the agreement is paving the way for the developer to demand higher development levels in the future.

Because the county has only until the end of next week to legally object to the city's decision, County Attorney Garth Coller suggested at the meeting Tuesday that the commission allow him to file a lawsuit. This would still give the two sides a chance to mediate an agreement before they met in court; in fact, that is required by state law, Coller said.

Commissioners Diane Rowden and Nancy Robinson agreed with this suggestion.

But Commissioner Jeff Stabins won over the commission by suggesting the county make a final effort to discuss the matter sometime before the final deadline passes next week.

Brooksville Mayor Joe Johnston III said he didn't object to meeting with the county but didn't see why it was necessary, especially because all the council members previously agreed the city should help improve Mondon Hill.

Geiger said that, despite Jennings' interpretation, the development agreement did nothing to allow denser development. It only allows the developer to request more intense building, a right it would have in any case.

The development agreement does give Majestic Oaks assurance about concurrency because the developer needs it to adequately plan the project.

"They want some reassurance that the infrastructure is not going to be an issue after the fact," he said.

In any case, Geiger said, the county will have plenty of chances to discuss the project, including when the developers go for a comprehensive plan change that will be needed if they want to build more than the 120 houses the county has already allowed.