tampabay.com

Habitat focuses on own home

By BETH N. GRAY
Published February 15, 2007


BROOKSVILLE - A zoning issue has cast a shadow over the future home building of Habitat for Humanity of Hernando County because the agency is being forced out of its own home near the airport.

Habitat officials say the move being mandated by the county could end up costing more than $100,000, money that could otherwise build two homes.

"This hit us right between the eyes," said Cliff Fouts, executive director of Habitat, which has been a tenant for two years in the building at 2005-2025 S Broad St., on the fringe of the Air Industrial Park.

Terminix International, the pest control company, also is being forced out. County zoning officials say Habitat's thrift store and Terminix's operations center are commercial operations and do not comply with the building's industrial zoning.

"It was a surprise," said Terminix manager Raul Ceyla. The branch office has been there for three years with 20 employees serving customers in Hernando and Citrus counties.

"We're upset," said Scott Jager, president of Christian Contractors Association Inc., which bought the building two years ago. Of special concern is Habitat, a partner in building and rehabilitating homes for those in need.

Habitat and Terminix are now trying to get some more time to make the move. In January they were given 60 days.

"We'll work with them as much as we can," said Gary Fisher, the county's zoning administrator.

The problems came to light after the county reviewed plans for an electrical upgrade project at Terminix. Officials soon realized that Habitat and Terminix, two of eight tenants in the building owned by the Christian Contractors Association, didn't adhere to the zoning rules.

"The inspector came back and talked about the different tenants," said development director Grant Tolbert. "We didn't know."

Added Fisher, "We don't check until we're made aware of it."

No one is looking to battle the county's orders.

Fouts offered, "We're more than willing to do what we're required to do. We have to meet all the same rules as everybody else, and we want to."

Habitat's board president, Bob Jillings, added, "We said although we had a lease for three more years we'd be happy to find another place."

Said Ceyla: "We have to be in compliance. We're not going to get in a fight with anybody."

Moving, especially a commercial enterprise, isn't easy.

"It's basically impossible to move in six weeks," Ceyla said. On top of which, "we just spent $25,000 in redoing electronics and cabling and now we'll have to go through all that again."

"The only thing we're asking is we need more than six weeks. We're also getting into the high season of termites. Can you imagine?"

Habitat's problems are more complex since it is considered an industrial operation for its home building projects and a commercial enterprise with its thrift store.

Habitat has taken a temporary lease on a former manufacturing site on Oliver Street behind the fairgrounds, a building zoned for manufacturing. Preconstruction work already has moved into the facility. The building owner will have to request a special exception or a variance from Brooksville for the thrift shop, Fouts said.

Habitat was turned down by owners of four buildings who didn't want a thrift shop in the neighborhood, he said.

Fouts said, "Our mission is building houses. We may have to stop doing a thrift store for a time."

Jillings and Fouts said they think the new building will require as much as $100,000 in renovations to accommodate the thrift shop and administrative offices. They worry that those costs will ultimately end up hurting home projects.

The two homes now under construction will be finished, "but beyond that, I don't know," Fouts said.

The thrift shop is another issue. It brings in about $5,000 a month; thus, its importance to the organization is significant.

"So, there's a number of issues to resolve," Jillings said.

"We have some tough decisions," Fouts added.

Beth Gray can be reached at graybethn@earthlink.net.