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Hernando commissioners reject building villas on golf driving range site

Adjacent residents of Oak Hills golf course said they didn’t want their green space to disappear.
Hernando County Government Center    Times (2018)
Hernando County Government Center Times (2018)
Published Nov. 6, 2019

BROOKSVILLE — Residents around the Oak Hills golf course say they picked their homes for the privacy and green space, and that their roads already are too crowded.

Yet, the owner of the community golf course partnered with a developer, seeking to change 20 acres of driving range and maintenance area into a site for 90 villa homes. The proposal required a change in the county’s comprehensive plan map and a rezoning. The Hernando County Planning and Zoning Commission had recommended approval of the plan.

But in a rare rejection of a development plan, the Hernando County Commission on Tuesday voted 4-1 against changing the land use from recreational to residential. Commission Chairman Jeff Holcomb was the sole vote in favor of the plan.

That rejection brings an end to the proposed project.

The community is a part of Spring Hill, north of Northcliffe Boulevard between Deltona and Mariner.

The proposal was made by the Benge Development Corporation and golf course owner John Corporletti. The developer wanted to build 90 villa homes of 1,200 square feet or more on the 20 acres just west of Puritan Lane. The new villas would have backed up to houses on that street, separated by a 30-foot vegetative buffer.

Several years ago, a more intense use was approved for the 20 acres and other portions of the development, including the area around the club house. It included a hotel, additional home lots, rental villas, 40,000 square feet of retail space and a 500-seat convention center and restaurant.

That plan never came to fruition and has since expired, although there are still long-term development rights to the previous plan, county officials said.

Residents at the commission meeting said that even without more homes, they cannot get out of their neighborhood during busy traffic times, such as the end of the school day. Others have had ongoing drainage problems and showed pictures of Puritan Lane under water during heavy rains. Some said they didn’t want to lose the green areas and privacy they counted on when they bought alongside dedicated recreational lands.

Julie Champman said she bought her two lots on Puritan Lane with the "selling point'' being the privacy. She was told that no one could ever build on an adjacent drainage area.

"What happens to the existing home owners'' if the development is allowed, she asked.

Others said they came to Hernando County for breathing room, green areas and less congestion. Some thought the development plan was the first step in getting rid of the golf course.

Holcomb told residents that the only way to ensure that land next to them didn’t develop into something undesirable was to buy it themselves. Commissioners must approve projects unless they can make a legally defensible argument against them, he said.

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But other commissioners saw it differently.

Commissioner Steve Champion said he could understand that some residents might feel they were "sold a bill of goods'' when they bought next to recreational lands and now find out there could be villas in their backyards.

"Is it fair to change the rules?'' he asked. "What rights do the residents in the surrounding area have?''

Holcomb argued that the county needs more diversified housing, and that smaller lots may be more attractive to new buyers, whether it be young adults or seniors, who don’t want to deal with bigger yards.

"We could get them into housing so they wouldn’t have to rent,'' he said.

But Commissioner Wayne Dukes said there was a difference between building those smaller units in a new community and building them in an existing community when something else was promised to current residents.

Commissioner John Allocco said he was conflicted. With area golf courses struggling, the villas might be a way to keep the existing golf course going. And he thought the 30-foot buffer behind homes might be enough.

Also on the fence was Commissioner John Mitten, who said "the historical nature'' of the community should be considered. He suggested that the way to make the golf course flourish was to invest some money in that amenity.

Alan Garman, representing the developer, said that investment likely would not pay for itself.