Controversial apartment project near Brooksville gets pulled for now

Flooding and highway access were among the concerns.
The Hernando County Government Center in downtown Brooksville. [JUSTIN TROMBLY | Times]
The Hernando County Government Center in downtown Brooksville. [JUSTIN TROMBLY | Times]
Published November 20 2018

BROOKSVILLE — Neighbors opposed to an apartment complex planned for an 8.4-acre property behind AutoNation Ford got at least a temporary reprieve earlier this month.

The project by Falcon Ridge Acquisitions was to include 134 units in buildings three stories high in an area off VFW Road known for frequent and sometimes severe drainage problems. When the project came before Hernando County Commissioners, the county Planning and Zoning Commission already had recommended denial, neighbors had complained and the Brooksville mayor had urged a no vote.

Falcon Ridge is a business with two influential community residents on its corporate paperwork — Brooksville accountant Randy Woodruff and realtor Gary Schraut.

That wasn't lost on resident Donna Morin, who said she was shocked that they would bring potential problems to those who live nearby.

"It's not fair to them to have to deal with this mess. They are retired people. I am retired,'' she said. "Randy and Gary and Coastal Engineering want to build this and destroy that community that has been here since 1974.''

In August of 2013, a summer rainstorm deluged that part of Brooksville, sending cars in nearby shopping centers into headlight-deep torrents of water, flooding area department stores and sending an unexpected armada of outdoor sheds from a local business floating down Broad Street.

While that was a freak storm, those familiar with the area said it was a severe version of what often happens when there is heavy rain.

The Planning and Zoning Commission thought the development was too dense, were worried about drainage and traffic problems, and were concerned that the city of Brooksville had not yet weighed in when they heard the case a month ago. The property is in the county, adjacent to city water and sewers, and would be served by Brooksville utilities, according to the proposal.

Since then, Brooksville community development director Bill Geiger has shared some of the same concerns about the density and height of the proposed apartments.

County planners recommended dropping the number of units to 80 and limiting the height to two stories, but commissioners still were concerned.

Commissioner Wayne Dukes said he remembered the flood a few years ago and that a lot of water came down into the same neighborhoods whose residents brought petitions in protest.

"Big Lots has been underwater just up the hill,'' said Commissioner John Allocco. "I've been here 20 years, and I've watched that area go deep underwater many times.''

Morin said she cleans her in-ground pool three times a year to get rid of the mud and debris that washes in when nearby retention ponds overflow during rainstorms.

Pulling out onto U.S. 41 near the site already is difficult, said resident Frances Flowers, adding, "this is ludicrous to do this.''

Brooksville Mayor Better Erhard told commissioners they need to visit the neighborhood and talk with residents. "I hope you will not support this project,'' she said.

After hearing the concerns, Don Lacey of Coastal Engineering, said that rather than reconfigure the plan, he would withdraw it and consider redesigning the project.

Commissioners agreed, and the discussion was done.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.