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Two big commercial projects could add to a building boom near Cortez and Mariner.
Published Oct. 14, 2013

Construction-weary motorists who travel Cortez Boulevard regularly should brace for more bulldozers and backhoes, but this time on large parcels that front the busy highway - part of a building boom near an already busy intersection.

On Monday, the Hernando County Planning and Zoning Commission will consider conditional plats for two major commercial projects on Cortez just west of Mariner Boulevard. That step, in which a developer submits a preliminary depiction of how the property will be arranged, leads to internal reviews of the details and ultimately to the approval of final construction plans.

In the case of the two projects coming forward Monday, the developers have expressed interest in moving forward immediately because they have tenants who are interested in their sites, said Ron Pianta, the county's assistant administrator for planning and development. He said he expects to see construction on both sites in 2014.

Potential tenants have not been announced, but nationally known restaurant chains and retailers have expressed interest, officials say.

That is good news for many, given that there have been no projects of this size approved since the shopping center on U.S. 19 south of Spring Hill Drive several years ago, Pianta noted.

"We are seeing a lot going on in that one particular corridor,'' he said. "Activity breeds activity.''

He also said that developers of projects like these are aware of road improvement projects going on, such as the widening of Cortez. Developers might be timing their projects to coincide with the completion of the road improvements, he said.

The applicant for one of the projects is Gary L. Blackwell Investments. Located on the north side of Cortez just west of Weeping Willow Street, the parcel is 28 acres. Six commercial lots and two multifamily senior housing pods are planned. High Point borders the edges of the property.

The existing entry to the site will be improved and a new access point is planned to line up with the median cut under construction at Evergreen Woods. A reverse frontage road is also planned on the site.

Last week, the County Commission approved deferring for seven years the $65,000 in impact fees that the developer would owe on the housing pods. The housing portion of the development, which is called the Vista Park Apartments, would include approximately 102 affordable senior housing apartments.

The deferral of impact fees helps the developer seek financing through the Florida Housing Finance Association, commissioners were told.

The second project is on the south side of Cortez just west of Mariner. The property is 20 acres and includes six commercial parcels ranging in size from 1.5 to 5.8 acres. Four of those front Cortez, with two large commercial lots at the rear of the site.

The primary entrance will be off Cortez, and the site will have a reverse frontage road. Also planned is a 6-foot-high fence or wall at the back of the parcel.

The two projects are not the only new commercial activity taking place near the intersection of Cortez and Mariner.

A 17.5-acre parcel to the west of HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital on Cortez is winding its way through the development approval process.

That project has been broken into two phases, with the first being a medical office building. It will include a reverse frontage road. Pianta said with the two large projects on the south side of Cortez, the hope is to connect the reverse frontage roads to other frontage roads so people can someday travel from Mariner to the traffic signal at High Point without driving on Cortez.

There is also activity at nearby Western Way Plaza, on the north side of Cortez. Beacon Stadium Cinemas is expanding, and a Burger King is under construction on an outparcel there.

The construction boom in that area was discussed last week as the County Commission decided to spend $1 million for a 4-acre parcel on Cortez Boulevard needed to construct an extension of California Street north of Cortez. The road extension is currently planned after 2035.

Commissioner Diane Rowden argued against the purchase, saying the money is needed instead to make improvements at the Cortez/Mariner intersection.

She noted that traffic at the intersection will only get worse as all of the new retail centers, offices and housing units are built. She was unable to halt the property purchase, but did get approval for the county staff to bring back a plan to move the Cortez/Mariner improvements up as a priority.

The project to add lanes on Mariner north of Cortez could cost the county $5 million.

County transportation officials plan to meet next week to begin formulating a plan and potential funding sources.

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