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New rules put on big store plans

Hearings and County Commission approval will be needed for commercial projects of more than 65,000 square feet.

By WILL VAN SANT
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 23, 2003


BROOKSVILLE -- The County Commission on Tuesday approved zoning ordinance changes that it hopes will give officials new, sharper tools to shape growth.

The changes require all commercial development larger than 65,000 square feet to be deemed "planned development projects" regardless of how the land on which they sit is zoned. Under the PDP process, developments move forward only after public hearings and board approval.

Previously, such large projects -- which include "big box" stores -- could proceed without the public scrutiny hearings afford or the guidance of commissioners, as long as the land they sat on was not specifically designated for PDPs.

According to Growth and Development director Larry Jennings, about 30 projects are subject to the PDP process every year. The zoning changes, he said, would make about 10 additional projects conform to PDP requirements annually.

The 65,000-square-foot figure the board arrived at was a compromise. Jennings had suggested making only those projects larger than 100,000 square feet subject to the PDP rules. Seeking greater control, Commissioner Diane Rowden suggested 25,000 square feet, the same figure used in the big-box ordinance passed in 2001, which requires attractive facades, prohibits flat roof lines and includes other measures to make developments easier on the eye.

Commissioners Tuesday toyed with the idea of 50,000 and 75,000 square feet before reaching their compromise figure. But it was still too onerous for Commissioner Robert Schenck, a staunch pro-business advocate and the lone board member to vote against the changes.

"It's just more red tape to go through for people who want to do business with the county," Schenck said.

Rowden told her fellow board member before the vote that ensuring good quality growth -- something everybody seems to want but few are able to define -- was at issue, not the creation of bureaucratic hoops for developers to leap through.

Kellie Edwards, an executive officer with the Hernando Builders Association, said her organization was comfortable with adopting the 100,000-square-foot threshold but would oppose anything less.

The 65,000-square-foot figure will make developments on the scale of the new 207,300-square-foot Wal-Mart on U.S. 19 and Osowaw Boulevard subject to PDP rules, but it exempts the 12,200-square-foot Publix built at Mariner and Northcliffe Boulevards in 2001.

In addition to the size threshold, the changes call for increasing the specificity of PDP plans developers submit to the county, whether for commercial or residential projects. They require that setbacks and development density be provided, as well as a conceptual plan.

Advocates of the changes say they not only give the public more control over county growth but allow commissioners the flexibility to strike deals with developers, offering to reduce setback requirements, for example, in exchange for more trees or a more becoming facade design.

After the vote, Rowden said she was not satisfied, having hoped for a stricter square footage threshold, but called the changes "a step in the right direction."

-- Will Van Sant covers Hernando County government and can be reached at 754-6127. Send e-mail to vansant@sptimes.com .

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