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Hernando commissioner wants to change public land sales after accusations of cronyism

Commissioner Wayne Dukes said sales should be handled differently.
Hernando County Government Center
Hernando County Government Center
Published Nov. 25, 2019

BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County Commission didn’t do anything wrong, according to Commissioner Wayne Dukes. But he was dismayed at the backlash after a recent commission decision to sell nearly 40 acres of prospective park land to the business of state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill.

Ingoglia submitted an unsolicited bid for $408,000. The commission approved it several weeks later.

Dukes urged a change in the process to help eliminate the public perception of cronyism. And he learned that the process changed after the sale to Ingoglia in a way that announces the parcel sales more publicly and likely will bring in more funds to the county.

The land sale to Ingoglia also drew questions from a long-time development representative during the Nov. 19 Commission meeting.

Ingoglia, a homebuilder who owns Hartland Homes, paid just over $10,000 an acre, which the county property appraiser determined was the proper value of the undeveloped sites zoned for recreational use.

The acreage was scattered around Spring Hill in six parcels originally advertised as future park sites. Deeded to the county along with other public use sites, county officials had not developed them as parks.

Dukes said that as soon as the sale of the parcels went public, the community painted the decision as a “good ole boy” favor, even though that wasn’t true.

"Obviously, we didn’t do anything wrong, but I used to tell my folks ... perception of wrongdoing is often considered wrongdoing,'' he said.

The county is trying to sell numerous parcels, so it needs a better process than simply approving unsolicited bids, as it did with Ingoglia, Dukes said.

"People don’t like it. They really don’t,'' he said. "I have a real problem with this. It just doesn’t feel right.''

The commission vote to approve the sale to Ingoglia was unanimous.

County administrator Jeff Rogers said he hired real estate broker Robert Buckner several months ago at the commission’s direction to handle land sales. Buckner told commissioners that he sent letters to adjoining property owners of other vacant lands the week of Nov. 11.

“I’m getting inundated with phone calls offering to purchase,” he said. Buckner did not handle the Ingoglia transaction, which didn’t include that step.

Paul Molle’, the county’s real property manager, said the county was "getting a demand I didn’t anticipate,'' and he expected five or so more sales in the coming month.

The Ingoglia deal also brought questions from Alan Garman, who represents developers before county boards.

Garman, who worked for Spring Hill developer Deltona more than 30 years ago, said he had no problem with the county selling land set aside for parks. But he didn’t understand why commissioners took a contradictory stand last month with a project he represented.

In that case, the commission denied a change in the comprehensive plan to allow a developer to build villa homes next to the Oak Hills Golf Course. Homes would have gone up on the course’s driving range and maintenance area.

Commissioners said the neighbors had an expectation that their homes would be next to recreational facilities, so they voted down the application. Commissioners didn’t apply the same logic when they approved selling Ingoglia the parcels in Spring Hill, Garman said.

“Both items are the same concept,'' he said. ”I’m not opposed to selling the parks, if it brings money into the county, helps the county’s budget and puts them on the tax rolls. I fully understand that.''

But the commission decision "confused me,'' he said, and he doesn’t know how to explain to developers where the county stands on certain rezoning requests.

Commissioner Steve Champion said the cases were different. The lots sold to Hartman Homes "were chunks of land that were never going to be a park,'' he said, while the Oak Hills concerns involved homes next to land already used for recreational purposes.

Garman said he didn’t want to argue with the commission and that, "I wanted to get that off my chest.''