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Fight over Yankeetown project gets nasty, remains unresolved

How heated has the rhetoric gotten in this small town on the banks of the Withlacoochee River?

Attila and the Huns are at the gate, and Yankeetown must act now, Edward Candela told the Town Council on Monday.

As residents learn more about a proposed development, they get angrier. Many at the meeting admonished the council, applauded antidevelopment speakers and booed anyone affiliated, or perceived to be affiliated, with Izaak Walton Investors LLC.

Some people simply stormed out.

Despite all the shouting, little was decided.

Mayor Joanne Johannesson discussed the request for a development agreement that developer Jim Sherwood hand delivered to Town Hall earlier Monday. The council made another incremental step toward crafting a building moratorium. And the council decided to use former Crystal River City Attorney David La Croix as an interim town attorney.

Outrage started building in December, when Yankeetown learned that developers want to build a residential resort lodging on the Withlacoochee. Sherwood said on Monday that the development would span more than nine parcels, but he declined to give an exact figure. He said the company has already closed on three properties.

In the middle of the development ruckus, Yankeetown lost its town attorney of eight years, Clark Stillwell, said Town Clerk Debra Stines. Council members voted at the last meeting to advertise for the position.

Some Yankeetown residents weren't happy to find La Croix was the only respondent.

"Mr. La Croix was the Crystal River lawyer during an annexation that resulted in a lawsuit," said Yankeetown resident Linda Cohan.

La Croix did represent the city when it annexed land to the south. RealtiCorp owned much of the land and hoped to build a Wal-Mart Supercenter. A judge later threw out the annexation.

Cohan demanded that La Croix divulge his relationship with Stillwell. Many residents are upset with the former town attorney, who was corresponding with developers for months before most townspeople knew of the proposed development.

"I have no relationship whatsoever with Clark Stillwell," La Croix said. "He's a casual friend. I don't even play golf with him."

Stillwell represents many developers. "I've never represented developers, except for a brief period in the early '90s," said La Croix, who is city attorney for Brooksville.

La Croix said he did not want to apply for the permanent position. But he said he would be happy to assist in an interim capacity.

The council passed a motion accepting his offer.

Though in the future, La Croix will charge his normal rate, he agreed to give advice at Monday's meeting for free.

A hot agenda item: the proposed building moratorium.

Council members passed a motion at the last meeting to begin work on a six-month moratorium for all new commercial building permits. But some feared such a move might open them up to lawsuits.

"Which is the lesser of evils, possible financial problems, or moral bankruptcy?" Candela asked the council.

At the insistence of the public, the council agreed to start working on a moratorium with Bruce Day, planning director for the Withlacoochee Regional Planning Council.

Whether the moratorium would apply to the proposed development on the river is unclear.

"I'll need to look into it," La Croix said. "It depends whether (the developer) has completed a development permit application."