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Concern about the project's density coincides with a discovery that the site is in a storm velocity zone.
Published May 19, 2011

The Planning and Zoning Commission last month struggled with a proposal to build 37 townhomes on an environmentally sensitive parcel adjacent to the Mud River near Mary's Fish Camp.

For nearly two hours, several members questioned how to justify such a density when 20 of the 37 acres just east of Bayport were wetlands or submerged lands at the springs that feed the river. They discussed how residents would be able to evacuate in a storm using only a single entrance that would dump traffic onto Cortez Boulevard.

Neighbors also worried that the project would destroy the environment, threaten manatees and change the natural beauty that lured them to that part of Hernando County.

A majority of the planning commissioners voted to send the project to the County Commission with a recommendation to approve the project. But before the board could consider the proposal last week, it was withdrawn.

Turns out that some of the planning commissioners' concerns were more on mark than anyone knew at the time. Ron Pianta, land services director, told the planning commission last week that the owners of the site, Curtis Norman and Zeneda Partners Limited Partnership, wanted the application postponed. Since the April hearing, county staff discovered a fact about the site that changed the discussion entirely.

When questioned by planning commissioners in April, county staff said part of the site is in a "velocity zone,'' an area determined to be most at risk of dangerously high winds during a hurricane strike. Special development rules are in place in such coastal areas.

As it turns out, the entire parcel is in the velocity zone.

Hernando County's growth management rules state that the 17 uplands acres fall under a one unit per acre density standard, meaning only 17 units could be allowed.

In other zones, even the wetlands and submerged lands density can be considered in figuring overall density, which is why the owners asked for 37 units on a total of 37 acres. Those units were to be grouped in nine buildings of townhomes along the higher ridge area running through the property.

That allowance was what bothered several planning commission members. How could a parcel with so much water on it be allowed the number of units requested.

"Seventeen or 18 units should be the most allowed,'' planning commission alternate John Scharch said at the time. "I personally don't believe building rights should accrue to water.''

If single-family homes were built on the site, only 17 would be allowed, said planning commission member Lisa Hammond. "I'm really struggling with this,'' she said.

Last week, Pianta admitted to the planning commission, "I will tell you, we didn't have all the information'' in April. "We didn't give you a full picture. We gave you a partial picture,'' he said.

Planning commission member Robert Widmar questioned whether the board could restrict density and he reminded his colleagues that an adjacent property was far more densely developed.

"They developed in a different era,'' Pianta said.

"Why compound the problem,'' Hammond asked, "especially when there is just one way out?''

Widmar said it was just 37 more units.

"You have to stop it someplace,'' said planning commission Chairman Denis Riley.

Pianta said that he anticipates the owners will bring back a new plan.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at or (352) 848-1434.