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Annexation of 165 acres advances

The City Council took the first step Tuesday night toward annexing a prime chunk of undeveloped lakeshore property despite many unanswered questions about the owner's plans.

The 165-acre parcel, between Turner Camp Road on the west and Little Lake Henderson on the east, sits undisturbed except for a vacant home and some cows.

Real estate attorney Clark Stillwell, on behalf of owner John F. Roscow III, asked the council to bring the property within city limits for the purpose of hooking up to city water and sewer lines. It was a procedural move, he said.

But council members know a development proposal looms. The main question on their minds at the meeting: What's planned for the valuable property?

Stillwell said the owner didn't have any plans to sell or develop the property yet - at least none Stillwell could disclose.

"Just look at this right now as dirt, and we are expanding the borders," said City Manager Frank DiGiovanni.

With that advice, the council voted 4-1 to annex the property. Final approval is expected at the next council meeting.

Troubled by the vague proposal about a piece of environmentally sensitive land, council member Sophia Diaz-Fonseca cast the dissenting vote.

"I have a problem with the lack of information and how we have to do everything after it's annexed," she said.

The property is classified by the county as "low intensity coastal lakes," a designation that limits the number of houses that can be built. Diaz-Fonseca said the city's zoning classifications are not as stringent and she's worried that development could harm the fragile lake.

Inverness resident Hilbert Staton, a former city development director who lives on Little Lake Henderson, echoed those concerns. He called Stillwell a very shrewd individual and said he saw through the smoke screen. "The reason they need to be annexed is they need density on their property," he said.

He asked the council to scrutinize future development plans to preserve the quality of the lake.

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or 860-7312.

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