BROOKSVILLE — Another Spring Hill parcel, originally slated for a park, is generating community concern.
Residents near the intersection of County Line Road and Cobblestone Drive urged the Hernando County Planning and Zoning Commission last month to turn down plans for a gas station and convenience store on that busy corner.
Some argued that because the county owned the land, they thought they were protected from commercial development. Others were concerned that the development would invite criminal activity and more traffic congestion.
The site is identified as residential, not commercial, according to the county’s comprehensive plan for growth. Planning commissioners voted 4-1 to recommend that the County Commission reject the plan. Commissioners plan to take up the issue on Tuesday.
For the past two months, commissioners have been facing the fallout from their decision to sell six former park sites in Spring Hill to Hartland Homes, the home building company of state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, who made an unsolicited bid for the purchase. The County Commission is selling county-owned parcels it does not need and decided that the undeveloped sites in Spring Hill, deeded by developer Deltona to the county years ago, should be high on that list.
The unintended consequence has been public criticism that the commissioners did Ingoglia a special favor. Ingoglia has been the leader of both the local and the state Republican parties. All five commissioners are Republicans. Commission Chairman Jeff Holcomb is head of the local party executive committee, and Commissioner John Allocco held the position after Ingoglia.
In the latest case, RKM Development Group hopes to buy the 5.4-acre former park site to turn it into a gas station and convenience store. With a signal at the intersection and a promise to keep the back acre undeveloped, the developer’s representative, Don Lacey of Coastal Engineering, said the use was appropriate.
Katrina Bivona argued that County Line Road already is difficult to get across, even with the light. She said she represented the property next door, Spring Hill Calvary Church of the Nazarene, which got a letter from the county’s real estate broker saying the property was available for sale.
But when they called, "we were told it was already in a solid contract and no longer available, and that was kind of disappointing,'' Bivona said. "Originally it was going to be a park, and now it’s going to be a gas station. It’s disturbing.''
Bennett Klinert recently built a house on County Line beside the location. He said he would lose property value and his privacy if the station were approved.
He said he picked the lot because "the builder said this land was ... owned by the county.... You won’t have to worry about anything happening here.''
Planning Commissioner Lynn Gruber-White said she normally would be in favor of anything that would increase property taxes for the county. But the comprehensive plan has just a few clusters of commercial development on County Line Road, she said, and this wasn’t one of them.
"I’m not sure this is the right place,'' she said.
A gas station would be considered neighborhood commercial and would not have been depicted in the comprehensive plan map, explained Ron Pianta, the county’s planning director.
"They had a reasonable expectation, because we are supposed to be able to trust what our comprehensive plan has set forth and make investments based on that,'' Gruber-White said.
"I look all around this particular piece of property‚ and I see individual homes,'’ said Planning Commissioner Ronald Cohen. "It just doesn’t look to me that this site is compatible with a gas station.''
The site might be good for a gas station, given that it’s on a main road, said Planning Commissioner Denis Riley, but it doesn’t make as much sense once the homes are there first.
Pianta explained the county commission’s decision to sell off former park lands around Spring Hill. The county has tried to regionalize the park system using larger sites, because it’s less efficient to keep up with more smaller parks.
A person buying land might conclude that a county-owned parcel would stay undeveloped, he said, but "the one thing guaranteed in life is that there are going to be changes.''
Planning Commissioner John Scharch cast the lone vote against denial.