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After fracturing the town, resort plan is turned down

Yankeetown's zoning official tells developers their proposal doesn't fit the town's zoning rules or comprehensive plan.

By ELENA LESLEY
Published February 5, 2007


YANKEETOWN - After spending more than a month reviewing development proposals, Yankeetown's new zoning official has issued her decision to developers who want to build a resort hotel on the Withlacoochee River: application denied.

Rebecca Jetton, a zoning consultant from Tallahassee, found that most portions of the proposal did not adhere to the town's comprehensive plan and current zoning.

"I'm not real surprised," said Town Council member Douglas Dame. "I always had in mind that what the developers were describing as 'by-right' was a pretty liberal interpretation."

From here, developers Izaak Walton Investors LLC can appeal Jetton's decision to the board of adjustment, or submit a new proposal more in line with the town's zoning.

Peter Spittler of Izaak Walton could not be reached for comment.

For more than a year, the specter of this resort hotel has loomed over the residents of tiny Yankeetown. Many worried it would ruin the Old Florida charm of their woodsy home.

The plan sparked such political unrest that it forced Gov. Jeb Bush to declare a state of emergency in July. During an ensuing special election, residents overwhelmingly voted for candidates who opposed negotiating with the developers. But the town was willing to let Izaak Walton build on the land it owned - in accordance with current zoning.

"That was part of my campaign platform," Dame said, "that they could build by-right, but we weren't going to bend the rules."

Still, the newly formed council had a problem. The political tumult left the town with no zoning officer to make these determinations.

After spending some time haggling with the developers over whom it would hire, the council decided to adopt a two-person system. A local officer would handle everyday code enforcement, and a specialized consultant would be brought in for any large projects.

They chose Jetton as consultant because of her impressive resume and decades of experience, Dame said.

"We found the absolute best zoning official we could find," said council member Larry Feldhusen. "We put our trust in her."

Over the past six weeks, she has reviewed the developers' scaled-back by-right proposals, which they said should require no zoning changes.

But that's not what Jetton found.

According to the comprehensive plan, areas zoned "commercial-water-oriented" are "limited to those uses which can be carried out only on, in or adjacent to water because the use requires access to a water body."

The developers had proposed residential resort units on several parcels of land with this designation, which is not allowed, Jetton wrote.

She did point out, however, that motel units were consistent with commercial-water-oriented zoning.

Jetton also took issue with the developers' proposal to dredge part of the shoreline, saying it did not serve "a necessary public purpose," and said that plans for an off-site wastewater treatment facility were not consistent with town codes.

She did conceptually approve one component of the project - to build single-family units on a parcel zoned residential.

Whether developers appeal Jetton's findings or not, "this decision suggests that development will be difficult," Dame said. "They need waterfront access to make the project viable."

If developers do submit a new proposal, council member Marsha Drew said, she hopes it will be a better fit for the town.

"We're not denying anyone the use of their property," she said. "We just want something our infrastructure can handle."

Elena Lesley can be reached at elesley@sptimes.com or 352 564-3627.