BROOKSVILLE — Ridge Manor residents had prepared for months to present their case against a man who wanted to run a machine shop and truck repair business on Treiman Boulevard, close to their homes, where such intense commercial land uses are not allowed.
On Tuesday, they filled several rows at the Hernando County Commission hearing on the matter, waving purple signs urging a no vote on a rezoning of Arnoldo Naranjo Rivero's 1.8-acre site.
They expected Rivero to ask for another delay to give him more time to clean up trucks and structures he had placed on the land against the existing commercial zoning rules. Instead, they got a quick resolution.
With county planner Omar DePablo translating for Rivero, who does not speak English, the applicant pulled his rezoning request on Tuesday. Commissioners offered no comment.
Rivero promised to clean up his property, where he had hoped to run a lathe, do welding and repair diesel equipment, as well as place a mobile home for himself and his family.
In addition, he told commissioners that once he addresses the county code violations, he will find a business to conduct on the site that meets his current zoning category.
The application was controversial from the start and brought to light concerns over a deeper, countywide issue.
The county planning staff and the county Planning and Zoning Commission both recommended approval of the Rivero application. Residents had made familiar arguments against the rezoning, pointing out that it didn't fit the neighborhood. The business would have put heavy commercial uses next to residential lots at entrance roads into the Ridge Manor community.
Nine months ago, county code enforcement officials began documenting items on the property — semi trucks and other vehicles, structures, tarps and equipment — not properly fenced or allowed under the existing zoning.
Citations followed, but as recently as last month, an inspection showed that Rivero had not removed the items.
Code enforcement documents indicate that a relative of the applicant reported that Rivero, because of his language barrier, thought the citation required him to clear the property of trees and brush, rather than the vehicles and other debris. Even after he was given an extension before his County Commission hearing, he had not fixed the violations.
The case brought to a head concerns that county officials were using the rezoning process to cure code violations.
"It is my understanding that, rather than being required to bring the enterprise into compliance with the existing code, the owners have been encouraged and coached by our county officials about a process — a zoning change request — that would allow them to circumvent requirements of the existing comprehensive plan,'' wrote Ridge Manor property owner Saybra Chapman.
"Not requiring compliance with the existing code and comprehensive plan is completely unacceptable on the part of the Planning Commission, zoning officials and elected members of our County Commission,'' Chapman wrote.
"How can a person who clearly ignores county rules and regulations be allowed to move forward in his quest to make unbelievable changes?'' asked nearby resident Cathie Moore. "I was always under the assumption that laws, rules and regulations in the county were set up for each and every one of us to abide by and follow. We can't pick and choose what we want to adhere to.''
Lynn Gruber-White, president of the Ridge Manor Property Owners Association, raised the same issue with the County Commission in May.
After Tuesday's hearing, she said she was pleased that Rivero pulled his application, but that he still needs to clean up his property. She plans to attend Thursday's special magistrate hearing where she hopes Rivero must pay the penalty for his continuing code violations.
Gruber-White, who also is a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission, said she is concerned that some people are allowed to violate the code while others make honest mistakes and are held to a strict standard. She wants to see the county create a more level playing field.
"I think that we need to continue to have this conversation, and I think we have a sitting commission that is listening to this conversation,'' Gruber-White said. "Hopefully this will mean that we see some changes.''
Contact Barbara Behrendt at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.