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Developer to pay impact fees in advance for schools

The developer of the proposed Hickory Hill subdivision in Spring Lake has agreed to pay $700,000 of its school impact fees in advance, an action school officials hope sets a trend.

"They are the first (developer to do so), though I have some others talking to me," said Ken Pritz, the school district's executive director of facilities and support operations.

The agreement, which Pritz negotiated with the developer, Sierra Properties LLC of Tampa, was announced at last week's School Board meeting.

School impact fees, which pay for school construction, are typically paid when a builder pulls a new home permit. That means the new houses are built - and the new students arrive - several years before the school district is able to plan and build a school for them, Pritz said.

"You're always in kind of a catchup game," he said.

He hopes agreements similar to the one he signed with Sierra can change that pattern. But the company will not be writing a check any time soon.

Before the company can build the development - where it has plans for 1,649 houses and three golf courses - the county and state must approve a change to the county comprehensive plan. The development plans have drawn intense opposition from neighbors in hilly, rural Spring Lake, and the company will not be required to pay the $700,000 unless it receives approval to build, said School Board Chairman Jim Malcolm.

The $700,000 would cover the impact fees for only the 165 houses planned for the first phase of the development, or about 10 percent of the total.

Hickory Hill will bring 595 students to the district, according to documents Sierra has submitted to the county. The actual number will probably be lower, Ken Crews, Sierra's chief operating officer, has said. That is because the company expects many of the houses will be built by retirees or couples with adult children.

Still, Pritz said, the development certainly will bring some students to schools that are already overburdened. Nearby Eastside Elementary is less crowded than many other elementary schools in the county, Pritz said.

"But it has a couple of portable (classrooms) sitting out there," he said.

The overcrowding at Hernando High School and Parrott Middle School in Brooksville, the other two schools that would serve Hickory Hill, is more severe.

Malcolm said he did not know whether the money would be used to help build schools or expand existing ones.

"It has not been earmarked yet," he said.

Dan DeWitt can be reached at dewitt@spttmes.com or (352) 754-6116.

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