BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County commissioners on Tuesday unanimously declared as surplus nearly 40 acres of property scattered around Spring Hill that was slated for future parks. They accepted a bid of $408,000 from Hartland Homes, the home building company of state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia-R, Spring Hill.
Commissioners were set to consider the sale last month, but delayed the action because the wrong contract was in the commission’s paperwork for the meeting.
Since then, social media has lit up with questions about why the commission would sell the public lands, especially for $10,000 an acre when home sites in Spring Hill run for much higher prices. Questions also revolved around why they would accept an unsolicited offer from Ingoglia, former leader of both the county and state Republican Party.
All five of Hernando County’s commissioners are Republicans.
"This is the wrong way to sell these properties,'' Spring Hill resident Anne Kraus-Keenan told commissioners on Tuesday. She pointed out that the homebuilding company recently purchased several smaller lots nearby for two to three times the $10,000 price.
She suggested putting the sites up for public bid to ensure any hint of impropriety.
"You have the potential for getting substantially more,'' she said. "There is no down side.''
County officials explained in the commission’s agenda packet how they arrived at the price: “In light of the type of offer made, a representative park site was selected and an appraisal was ordered so an extrapolation could be made on a cost per acre to compare the values.’’
Ingoglia’s offer was higher than the county’s property appraiser’s estimate, which was $389,000.
Ingoglia was chairman of the Hernando County Republican Executive Committee, a role now held by Commission Chairman Jeff Holcomb and previously held by Commissioner John Allocco. Holcomb also recently became a real estate associate and has advertised Ingoglia’s houses on his Facebook page.
On Tuesday, commissioners expressed surprise at news coverage of their plan to sell the lots. Commissioner Steve Champion said he didn’t realize that Hartland Homes was Ingoglia’s company.
Other commissioners said that the value of the park land wouldn’t be the same as home sites already served by sewer, water and road connections, so wouldn’t be expected to bring the same price.
Ingoglia made an unsolicited bid for the property, contacting the county’s real property supervisor Paul Molle’ directly. Molle’ said Tuesday that he had not spoken to Ingoglia before that phone call.
The commission never publicly discussed having potential buyers bid on the properties. The commission has been pushing to sell county-owned lands and has a running list of available lands, Molle’ said.
Commissioners questioned whether Molle’ advertised the sites as park land. He said he had not. The paperwork provided for commissioners noted that the properties were designated as park sites, as did the original deeds from the Deltona Corporation for Spring Hill.
Decades ago, when Spring Hill was under development, potential buyers came to pick out their home sites based on where parks, schools, churches and public building sites were on master plan maps. The county, however, never developed many of the parks.
Holcomb noted that commissioners were anxious to sell property so new residents can begin paying property taxes to the county.
In fact, three other county-owned parcels were sold on Tuesday, including one in Ridge Manor Estates and one in Weeki Wachee Acres. A 5.7 acre property on Cortez Boulevard at Blackbird Street brought $800,000 from Mahmood Akel, a local physician, by another unanimous commission vote.
On the Cortez Boulevard site, the county’s real estate broker Robert Buckner recommended "an initial asking price of no less than $1 million'' in a memo to commissioners in mid September.
“My goal as the county’s real estate broker is to achieve the highest market price possible,” he noted, "but understand a timely sale is a motivating factor.''
Next week, the county Planning and Zoning Commission will review a rezoning request for another site originally intended for a park in Spring Hill. That 5.4 acre site is at the corner of County Line Road and Cobblestone Drive and is proposed for purchase by RKM Development Group for a gas station and convenience store.
The six Spring Hill park sites sold to Ingoglia on Tuesday include: 8 acres on Sheffield Road; 5.4 acres on Oleta Street; 8 acres on Norvell Road; 5.5 acres on Laredo Avenue; 6.3 acres on Pinehurst Drive; and 5.7 acres on Holiday Drive.