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Business 2005

Development: Blueprint for county growth faces scrutiny

Business groups hire a former county commissioner to study issues that could potentially take away business opportunities.

Published February 13, 2005

Len Tria was hired in April to watch the doings of local government for three business groups. But, in a way, his work is just beginning.

Tria and his employers say there are many small issues facing the county, but one big one: growth and development. And the biggest growth management issue the county will face is this year's rewriting of the county's comprehensive plan.

"His work is focused on the comp plan," said Chris Pippenger, the government affairs chairwoman for the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber is one of the groups, along with the Hernando Builders Association and the Hernando County Association of Realtors, paying Tria's salary of $1,500 per month.

The comprehensive plan, sometimes called the "blueprint" for future growth in the county, was first written in 1990 and must be updated every seven years. Tria, who helped generate the original plan as a county commissioner in the 1980s, said his employers recognize that growth management is necessary to make the county a desirable place to live in the future. But he also wants to monitor issues that could potentially take away business opportunities.

Though the post has sometimes been referred to as a "government watchdog," Tria is really looking out for the interests of his clients, he said.

"The more accurate description is of someone who has knowledge of the process and is monitoring the process and bringing back information. I want to give them a complete picture," Tria said. He added that he was not hired to be a lobbyist, and certainly not a spokesman.

He said he is suited for the job because of his experience as a commissioner and on many other community groups that have an interest in growth issues. For example, Tria, who also formerly worked for Coastal Engineering Associates in Brooksville, is a member of the county's Environmentally Sensitive Lands Committee.

One comp plan issue he will be monitoring, he said, is a rule that allows commissioners to extend the boundaries of areas designated for residential development by a quarter-mile into rural land.

Some residents want to eliminate the provision because they say it allows growth into the countryside. Tria said some of their opinions are based on the mistaken belief that the boundaries can be extended again and again.

"That's not the case. It's capped at 1,320 feet," Tria said.

He also said county planners favor the provision because it allows for a transition between residential and rural areas.

"Staff considers it a good rule," Tria said.

County planner Jim King, who is working on the rewrite of the comp plan, said the first draft will be completed in April. It is due to go before the county Planning and Zoning Commission in June and the County Commission in July. Then it will be forwarded to the state for comments.

If all goes well, King said, the final version will be approved in December.

Just because the drafts are not completed doesn't mean Tria hasn't been working. The update will be based on an evaluations and appraisal report, which the county has already considered and Tria has studied. He also has been meeting monthly with officers from the organizations that hired him.

"It's a lot of reading," Tria said. "Just going through the comp plan stuff is enough to drive you nuts. I get the 80-page document and not just the executive summary."

King, the county planner, vouched for Tria's diligence.

"He has stayed in contact with me," King said. "He has been doing his job and making sure he understands everything."

[Last modified February 8, 2005, 16:44:07]

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