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Compromise averts court fight

Brooksville and the county will have staffs work out a deal on Majestic Oaks and annexation.

Published October 26, 2006


BROOKSVILLE - County Commissioner Jeff Stabins wondered if it was possible for the county and the city of Brooksville to avoid a lawsuit over the size of the Majestic Oaks subdivision.

"Or is this what I call a feel-bad issue?" he asked.

Apparently it was, as lawyers for the city and county argued over legal points at a meeting Tuesday night, ominously referring to elected officials in the room as either "clients" or "adversaries."

But Stabins, Brooksville Mayor Joe Johnston and others convinced their colleagues to try to avoid a lawsuit. In the end, they did.

County commissioners and City Council members agreed to allow staff members to try to work out an agreement on Majestic Oaks and the other main issue the two boards considered at their Tuesday meeting: whether to allow the city to annex nearly 900 acres of rural land south of downtown and east of Southern Hills Plantation Club.

To help resolve the annexation dispute, County Administrator Gary Kuhl said he and City Manager Richard Anderson would take up the city's proposal to come up with a detailed development plan for all of the land around the current city limits. The city and county had previously agreed to work together to review any plans for growth outside Brooksville.

"We're talking about the possibility of developing a master plan for the area surrounding the city," Johnston said. Developers who want to develop in the area would pay for the study, which would address the need for roads and other government services.

The city and county, which have repeatedly clashed over Brooksville's expansion plans, did not reach an agreement on another of the city's proposals: dedicating most of the land around the city for development on the county's comprehensive plan.

"The area around the city is no longer rural," said outgoing council member Ernie Wever. "It needs to be changed in classification to urban."

No one from the county responded to that suggestion, and the disagreement was even sharper on the future of Majestic Oaks.

In early 2005, the city, county and the original owners of the subdivision, a group of local investors led by Tommy Bronson, signed an agreement that set the maximum size of the development at 600 houses and 100,000 square feet of commercial or office space.

But last month, the City Council backed the plans of the developer who has bought the property, Avatar Holdings Inc. of Coral Gables, to expand the subdivision to 999 houses with 100,000 square feet for shops, restaurants and other commercial uses.

The council sent a request to change the city's comprehensive plan to the state.

City Attorney David La Croix read language from the earlier agreement that he said allowed the developer to request more density.

But granting that request, said County Attorney Garth Coller, would violate the earlier agreement.

"If La Croix is saying the agreement they have entered into has no legal consequence, I would disagree," Coller said.

Though both lawyers said their arguments would prevail in court, council members and commissioners called them off, with Commissioner Nancy Robinson picking up on a statement from Johnston. He said the city would not allow any phase of construction without the county's approval.

Robinson suggested that provision be added to the existing agreement, and that the commission and council separately consider the new version. Coller assured her this could be done in two weeks, about the same time Kuhl requested to come back with a plan to resolve the annexation dispute.

Tallahassee lawyer Jake Varn, who represented the Bronson group and Avatar on the Majestic Oaks matter, summed up its resolution in a way that applied to the entire meeting.

"Toss it back to the staff and the lawyers, and we'll get it worked out," he said.

Dan DeWitt can be reached at or (352) 754-6116.

[Last modified October 26, 2006, 06:50:12]

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