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Hickory Hill wants vote delayed

The developer of the proposed Hickory Hill subdivision is asking the County Commission to put off one of the biggest land-use decisions in county history: whether to allow the construction of the upscale development on a 2,800-acre ranch in Spring Lake.

The commission is scheduled to hear the matter on Jan. 17. The developer, Sierra Properties LLC, has requested that it be put off for at least two months, partly to allow enough time for a judge to resolve the disputed election for the District 2 commission seat between Nancy Robinson and Rose Rocco.

"I would like to have five commissioners sitting up there," said Jake Varn, the Tallahassee lawyer who represents Sierra and the owner of the ranch, Robert Thomas.

Neither he nor Sebring Sierra, a Sierra Properties vice president, mentioned this in letters they sent to the county on Friday seeking the postponement.

The letters say Sierra cannot provide all the required information in time to allow an adequate review by commissioners and members of the public.

The commission must decide both whether to change the comprehensive plan to allow the development - which includes 1,749 houses and three golf courses - and whether the project meets the added requirements of large projects, called developments of regional impact.

That means Sierra Properties must answer questions from the state Department of Community Affairs, which reviews comp plan changes, and the Withlacoochee Regional Planning Council, which oversees applications for developments of regional impact.

At the same time, Sebring Sierra wrote, county officials have asked for information about "affordable housing and additional water, natural resources, and wildlife habitat protection. ... All these materials are extensive and contain a significant amount of new information."

In the commission race, Rocco beat Robinson by 1,444 votes. Robinson challenged the win in court, claiming Rocco wasn't qualified to be on the ballot because she didn't live in the Spring Hill district.

Robinson previously voted in favor of the project; Rocco has said she thinks the development is premature for the rural area.

Varn did not say who he would prefer to see prevail, only that he did not want the decision questioned afterward because only four commissioners voted on it.

Commission Chairwoman Diane Rowden said she didn't know whether she would vote to approve the postponement, which will likely be heard at the Dec. 13 land-use meeting.

Rowden did say who she wanted to prevail in the dispute over the District 2 seat: Rocco, a fellow Democrat.

"I would certainly like to see this whole situation settled as soon as possible," she said.

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

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