BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County commissioners agreed Tuesday to move forward on spending $400,000 on land for expanded parking for a Hernando Beach boat ramp. Despite complaints from residents, commissioners voted 3-1 to sign a contract for two parcels totaling more than four acres. They sit south of the existing parking lot, between Calienta Street and Shoal Line Boulevard.
Whether the county closes on the property will depend on the results of studies over the next six months, and on the sellers' willingness to come down from the $440,000 price tag that went to the commission.
Commissioners first discussed the property in December, when the proposed deal had a price of $475,000 and a shorter "feasibility period" for the county to explore practical and environmental concerns before finalizing the purchase. It caused alarm among residents, who were concerned about what they deemed unnecessary development and who wondered why it hadn't come up in recent public workshops about boat ramps.
At a meeting earlier in January, commissioners didn't take an expected vote on the contract and instead agreed to spend $13,665 on feasibility studies on the property and two other parcels that neighbor the existing parking lot. As of Tuesday, the studies on the other properties were moving ahead, alongside the vote on the contract.
Commission chair Jeff Holcomb removed himself from Tuesday's vote and the conversation that preceded it. He's associated with the same real estate office as Gary Schraut, the realtor representing the properties at hand. Holcomb denied any conflict of interest and criticized the Tampa Bay Times' reporting that revealed the connection. He said he decided not to vote in the interest of "taking the highest ethical standard."
Even the commissioners who voted in favor of the contract differed on their stances.
Commissioner John Allocco asked Schraut to negotiate the price down to $400,000.
Commissioner Steve Champion moved to sign the contract at the $440,000 price tag, though nobody seconded his motion. Champion said growth in the county — a 4.5 percent increase in boat registrations from 2008 to 2017 — demands more parking, and he feared losing the county's chance at the property.
"If we lose this, there is no other option, really," he said. "Do we really want to go there, is all I'm saying."
The only "no" vote came from Wayne Dukes, who wanted to wait 90 days for results of the feasibility studies on all four parcels.
Hernando Beach resident Charles Greenwell, who ran unsuccessfully last year for a county commission seat, again raised transparency concerns and asked for a public workshop on the issue.
Contact Jack Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @JackHEvans.