BROOKSVILLE — The most controversial local development project in years — expansion of the Cemex Construction Materials Florida lime rock mine onto more than 500 acres of land designated for agricultural uses — got its final rezoning approval this week.
County commissioners on Tuesday voted unanimously to rezone the property, which is west of Cobb Road and north of Cortez Boulevard. They also agreed to vacate the road that bisects the mining area known as the Lykes Cutoff and agreed to have Cemex provide land for a new road connecting California Street north of Cortez to Fort Dade Avenue.
The commission also approved a 100-acre site on other mine-owned property as a conservation easement to mitigate the loss of wildlife habitat in the new mining area.
The applicants for the rezoning of the 573.5 acres were Old Spring Hill, LLC, which owns the property, and Cemex. Other adjacent landowners involved in the swap were Spring Hill Land Trust, BMM Land Trust and BK Land Trust.
Owners of the mining properties sought a 20-year lease with plans to develop the property after that into a residential community. The land fronting Cortez Boulevard will be used for commercial development, under the plan.
The Cemex expansion met with years of organized opposition from area residents. Through a series of public meetings, the Neighbors Against Mining group raised concerns about: the incompatibility of mining with the adjacent residential neighborhood; water quality damage; destruction of the tree canopy along Fort Dade Avenue; blasting damage to homes; water drainage issues; wildlife and environmental destruction; disruption at the nearby Bayfront Health Brooksville hospital; and harm to the historic Spring Hill Cemetery.
Critics pointed out that the landowners included some of the county’s most influential business people, including retired mining executive Tommy Bronson, real estate broker Robert Buckner, banker Jim Kimbrough and lawyer Joe Mason.
Each of the four sitting elected county commissioners have received multiple campaign contributions from Cemex and its consultants. Commissioner John Mitten has not faced an election because he is a governor appointee.
Rresidents raised money from the community to hire lawyers and expert witnesses on everything from blasting to hydrology. They came to meetings in force.
Commissioners have argued that Cemex is the county’s top taxpayer and that it creates important jobs for the community. Mining officials have said repeatedly that this expansion will not create new jobs, but will extend existing jobs. Cemex official James Morris has estimated the economic impact of the new mining expansion at $50 million for its 20-year life.
The mining application went through several cycles, starting with a proposed change in land use from residential to mining in the county’s comprehensive plan. The proposal was first heard in 2011, but after a meeting with residents who opposed it, the effort stalled.
When the idea resurfaced in 2014, county Planning Commission members recommended denial. County commissioners were in favor, but agreed to consider an economic impact study of the proposal.
In 2015, Cemex withdrew its application when two county commissioners opposed the idea. At that time, the county required a super majority vote to change the comprehensive plan, which meant four of the five had to agree to the change. Since then, the County Commission has repealed the super majority vote requirement.
Commissioners approved the change to the comprehensive plan unanimously last year, but the Neighbors Against Mining filed a formal administrative challenge. In May, an administrative law judge ruled in favor of Cemex, setting the stage for final approval.
There were still opponents, but they did not turn out on Tuesday.
A co-founder of the opposition group, unable to make Tuesday’s hearing, wrote a two-page letter to the county explaining her opposition to the mining expansion. Cynthia Dietrich said she is a close neighbor and expects the quiet enjoyment of her home to be destroyed over the next 20 years of blasting, crushing equipment, dust, truck traffic and water well impacts
"The citizens of Hernando County are once again asking the county to deliver a measure of respect for our property rights and honor the spirit of regulations governing protection of our environment in this matter,'' Dietrich wrote.
Commissioner Wayne Dukes, who has supported the expansion since the beginning, said he wanted to be the one to make the motion to approve it.
"I’m glad it’s over,'' he said.
"I’m glad we are to this point,'' said Commissioner Steve Champion. "Cemex is a great partner to the county.''