The proposed Hickory Hill development would be built on a 2,800-acre ranch in Spring Lake, the largest remaining agricultural parcel in the county. Owned for more than 70 years by the Thomases - a Tampa family that made its fortune in phosphate, shipping and ranching - it would be developed by Sierra Properties of Tampa, which wants to build 1,750 homes, 63 holes of golf and a neighborhood shopping center.
The land is rural on the county's comprehensive plan. Sierra would concentrate its homes on the east side of the site near other property set for more intense development, creating a transition to the rural area to the west. Foes say the slow real estate market and other areas set for development mean this land does not need to be designated for homes. They also say chemicals on the lawns and golf courses could taint groundwater, including a well where the county draws drinking water. Sierra says the design of the golf course prevents that, and that an agreement with the county would require changes if monitoring wells show contamination.
The County Commission gave initial approval for the project last year, sending it to the state Department of Community Affairs for review. The state offered several objections, including that the development could contribute to sprawl and asked Sierra to answer those objections. The county Planning Department found that Sierra's answers were adequate and last week recommended changing the county comprehensive plan to allow the project.
A public hearing is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. today at the Hernando County Government Center, 20 N Main St., Brooksville. The hearing will include presentations from Sierra Properties and the Hernando Alliance for Open Land Conservation, a citizens group that has opposed the project. After allowing members of the public to voice their opinions, the commission will cast two votes - deciding whether to change the comprehensive plan to allow the project and whether to approve the project as a development of regional impact. Affirmative votes are required on both for the project to move forward.