Hickory Hill: Setting the bar high

Published April 23, 2007

For several years, we have focused on how to create the best possible community in Hickory Hill. The Hickory Hill plan has evolved and improved. The process started with a vision. The vision was refined based on community and regulatory agency feedback. This interactive planning approach allows for the creation of something special.

We have worked diligently to produce a high-quality plan that creates a timeless community. Hickory Hill also will provide numerous benefits for Hernando County residents, such as job opportunities, economic development and an innovative educational funding approach. Supporting this comprehensive plan change allows the county to effectively master plan, with stringent environmental regulations, a special parcel of land that is in the direct path of inevitable development.

The Hickory Hill plan includes details of how the land will be respectfully developed. The plan includes initiatives to protect water, wildlife and the character of the community. The Hickory Hill community sets the bar high by including commitments well beyond any that Hernando County has ever received.

It is important to note that the property can be developed without a comprehensive plan amendment. Under the current rural land use, the property could be fragmented into hundreds of parcels with minimal environmental protection or infrastructure funding. This type of uncoordinated plan is neither responsible nor sustainable long-term planning on such unique and beautiful land.

By adopting Hickory Hill, Hernando County gains in at least three major areas: (A) environmental protection; (B) proactive transportation solutions; and (C) responsible planning for the future. One significant benefit to approving the Hickory Hill plan is the level of certainty and accountability it provides.

(A) Hickory Hill includes specific policies and initiatives to protect the environment. More than 1,110 acres of open space will be provided, of which only 330 acres is golf. Under the existing land use, minimal open space requirements exist that contain ongoing management and care.

Hickory Hill will provide for critical wildlife corridors. These high-value wildlife habitat areas are not guaranteed protection under the existing land use. Hickory Hill will preserve topography, which is not required.

(B) The groundwater protection program at Hickory Hill is unprecedented. We have committed to recycling rainfall, using reclaimed water, planting native vegetation and utilizing Best Management Practices so that the need for fertilizers and irrigation is reduced. These innovative water programs are above and beyond the existing requirements.

(C) We understand that ensuring a functioning transportation network is critical to enhancing the quality of life for all residents and ensuring strong local economic development. The Hickory Hill transportation plan ensures that we contribute significantly more to improve roads than our required obligations. At the county's request, Sierra Properties has committed to provide up-front roadway funding, build critical roadways at no cost risk to the county or its taxpayers and provide additional funding even after these roadway enhancements are complete. This funding plan sets an extremely high standard and ensures existing residents do not pay the cost of new development.

It is important to note that we are directing traffic away from our neighbors. The existing land-use rules allow for numerous driveways directly onto local roads, including Baseball Pond Road. However, Hickory Hill residents will only access collector roads.

After we have paid for and built the required county roadway improvements, we are still responsible for the total cost of upkeep on more than 25 miles of internal roads. The existing land use would require the county to maintain internal roads at a cost to taxpayers.

Every member of Sierra Properties is dedicated to land stewardship. We invest where we live and work in order to create livable communities. We always strive to be productive and respectful neighbors.

Our company chairman's permanent residence is in Hernando County. He has owned property in the county for more than 30 years. In addition to our strong local ties, my family name is on the company. We stand firmly behind our product. We established our reputation over the past 40 years by exceeding expectations. With Hickory Hill, we will continue to strengthen our reputation for responsible development.

By approving the Hickory Hill plan, Hernando County has the opportunity to provide new public community parks, increased fire protection and significant school funding. We are proactively supporting the county's plan for affordable housing and creating hurricane shelters. We are agreeing to provide land use certainty with binding commitments.

Approval of Hickory Hill is a change that makes sense for the community. We are committed to responsible development that creates a quality community for generations to come. We are committed to Hernando County. We have put our reputation on the line. These are commitments we are happy to make to Hernando County and its residents because we believe in Hickory Hill.

Sebring Sierra is vice president of operations for Sierra Properties.

Guest columnists write their own views about subjects they choose, which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.

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