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Hernando commission overturns supermajority requirement for comp plan changes

Chairman Wayne Dukes was one of the main proponents of doing away with the requirement.
Published May 11, 2017

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County commissioners, touting their conservatism, their support for personal property rights and their dislike of any extra government rules, have unanimously overturned the county's so-called supermajority ordinance.

The vote came Tuesday evening after a final public hearing and despite a parade of audience members who largely spoke in favor of keeping the requirement.

The 4-0 vote, with Commissioner John Mitten absent, means that any future proposals to change the county's comprehensive plan, its blueprint for growth, will require just three affirmative votes from the five commissioners, rather than four, which has been the rule since the supermajority ordinance was approved in 2006.

Those who supported keeping the rule argued that it protected the property rights of people who came to Hernando County and established their homes or businesses, knowing from the county's future growth plan that they were investing wisely. They pointed out the need to plan for green spaces and wild places, in keeping with the county's marketing slogan — the Adventure Coast.

They also reminded commissioners that the plan was drawn up by professional planning staffers and that the timing was bad because the county is in the middle of an update of its comprehensive plan.

Brooksville resident DeeVon Quirolo, who led the successful battle against the Cemex mining expansion on Cortez Boulevard west of Brooksville a couple of years ago — with the help of the supermajority ordinance — presented commissioners with another batch of petitions from supporters, but she acknowledged that it seemed the commission had already made up its mind.

Quirolo tried one more time, though, to explain that diluting the comprehensive plan makes it easier for influential property owners to get what they want from the commission, even if it doesn't fit with the land-use plan.

Rosemarie Grubba called the comprehensive plan "a covenant or a contract'' that the county makes with its residents. "That's what a land-use plan is,'' she said. And while the idea of a future land-use plan might seem bureaucratic, she noted that its influence is seen in its effects on every single resident every single day.

Representing the homeowners of Ridge Manor, Lynn Gruber-White said the plan is the way the county protects residents from special interests.

"It is the covenant that Hernando County makes with its residents and potential residents,'' she said.

Anthony Palmieri asked what was broken that commissioners believed they needed to fix.

"You are doing this for some special interest group such as the builders, the Realtors or Hernando Progress,'' he said.

The Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce had sent out a call to action to its members before the hearing, urging them to come out to support repeal of the ordinance.

Teri Nichols, chairwoman-elect of the chamber, kicked off public comment Tuesday evening by saying that the requirement for a supermajority "is very restrictive to economic growth.''

At the first public hearing, there were no speakers in favor of overturning the rule, leading commissioners to question whether they were hearing the full story. They also were told that the Hernando County Planning and Zoning Commission, whose job it is to make recommendations to the County Commission on land-use changes, unanimously recommended that the supermajority ordinance stay in place.

Buddy Selph, a local Realtor with years of experience in local land-use issues, urged repeal of the rule.

"The comprehensive land-use plan needs to be understood for what it is. It's a guiding rule,'' Selph said, noting that requiring four votes rather than three politicizes land-use decisions.

Commissioner Nick Nicholson said he had long wanted the supermajority requirement to be overturned, and Commissioner Steve Champion said he has talked with many business people and none wanted the rule kept in place.

The county doesn't need more green space, with 44 percent of Hernando already in public ownership, argued Commissioner John Allocco. The rule wasn't of historical significance, he said, but had been pushed by "a radical commissioner'' several years ago.

In 2006, just before rampant county growth ran headlong into the real estate bust, the supermajority requirement was proposed by then-Commissioner Jeff Stabins. He argued that the county's comprehensive plan was meant to be a long-term, long-view document that acts as the blueprint for growth. Because of that, he reasoned, changes to the comprehensive plan should require stronger support than a simple majority vote.

Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes, who has pushed the repeal issue twice in recent years, passed the gavel so he could make the motion to repeal the supermajority ordinance, saying it was not logical.

"My conscience is absolutely clear,'' Dukes said. "I don't have any hidden agenda.''

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

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