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Farming family still plans venture into development

The Meltons have withdrawn a plan for seven parcels, but just for now.

By DAN DEWITT
Published January 31, 2007


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For the Melton family, who has been farming in Hernando County for more than 50 years, the time is coming to sell the "sellers."

Since Jack Melton, 82, began acquiring property in the 1950s, he always thought some of it would remain as farmland. Other parcels he always expected to market for development.

"We figure there's sellers and there's keepers," Melton, whose family owns a total of about 1,400 acres in Hernando and Pasco counties, said in 2000.

In August, Jack Melton Family Inc. submitted a plan to develop seven parcels covering 802 acres south of State Road 50 near Interstate 75.

Though the family has since withdrawn the plan, it still intends to develop the property, said Steve Melton, the oldest of four Melton sons. The health of the housing market and the pace of surrounding developments will determine when that happens, he said.

The seven parcels are all in the 4,800-acre planned development district, which has been set aside for more than 15 years for future development.

The Meltons' plan, which was prepared by Coastal Engineering Associates Inc. of Brooksville, envisioned a commercial area, a corporate park, an apartment complex and single-family homes.

It included few specifics, such as how many homes and apartments would be built on the land, said Jerry Greif, the county's chief planner; the family seemed interested in rezoning the land for future development without immediate plans to build or sell the property.

"It was not what I would call a full-bodied plan," he said. "It was more sketchy in nature, and we didn't feel that it met all the requirements."

Developers have submitted plans for five subdivisions in the district with a total of 7,000 houses, townhouses and apartments. Though all said they plan to proceed, all have been slowed to some degree.

The original developers of the 4,800-home Sunrise project defaulted on the sales agreement to buy the property in November. Metro Development Group LLC, which plans to build two projects in the district, has delayed plans to build one of the subdivisions for two years and the other for as long as five years.

The only developer in the area that has continued active negotiations with the county is Sierra Properties LLC, Greif said. Its project, Hickory Hill, is planned for agricultural land to the west of the development district.

"They are the only ones dotting their I's and crossing their T's," Grief said.

Steve Melton said his family pulled the plan because the "market has slowed down ... and we're trying to work in conjunction with county planners about where the utilities are going to go and where the schools are going to go."

Meanwhile, the family will continue to farm this property along with the groves and pastures it owns south of the development district, he said.

"We're thinking, 'What's the hurry?' "

Dan DeWitt can be reached at 352754-6116 or dewitt@sptimes.com.

[Last modified January 30, 2007, 22:58:41]


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