Free land could house schools

Published May 7, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - Three developers bearing the gift of free land could help the School Board find new school sites in eastern Hernando County.

The developers - Metro Development LLC of Tampa, Sunrise Land Partnership and Cornerstone Communities of Clearwater - have offered two parcels totaling 75 acres as part of concurrency negotiations over a Planned Development District straddling Interstate 75 south of State Road 50, according to district officials.

"This is donated property; it's not in lieu of impact fees, " said Ken Pritz, executive director of facilities and support operations, at a Tuesday workshop session. "This is very nice property."

He said he wasn't initially sure about that. The larger parcel, 55 acres north of Dashbach Street off Sunrise Boulevard and Kettering Road, abuts a county wastewater treatment plant.

"We did ask, 'Are there times when there's a smell there?' " Pritz said. "But it's very clean."

The other 20-acre parcel is at the southeast corner of Kettering Road and Dashbach Street.

Pritz and facilities director Roland "Bo" Bavota visited the properties, particularly the larger one, and smelled for themselves. Solid wastes are shipped elsewhere and the plant deals only with "gray water, " he said.

Board members were initially skeptical, "Because someone tried to donate swampland to us before, " said board member Sandra Nicholson. But they soon warmed to the idea.

Developers oppose putting a high school at either site, but are interested in the idea of placing a K-12 school with the infrastructure for 2, 000 students on the larger one, and building for 400 students now. The smaller site could accommodate an elementary school, Pritz said.

Board members weighed three options: negotiate to accept the land, accept a cash donation of about $35, 000 per acre, or accept some combination of the two.

After some discussion, the board agreed to pursue negotiations for an increasingly rare commodity in Hernando County: buildable land. But the board will have to meet again for a formal vote on accepting any of those options.

"I'm excited, " Nicholson said.

Bavota said the developers are still negotiating with the county over concurrency agreements regarding their contributions for roads, parks, schools and utilities, and will attend a county workshop today to discuss those concessions.

If those details are agreed upon, Metro and Cornerstone have indicated they're close to beginning construction on about 2, 500 homes, officials said. Sunrise is further behind in the process to build about 4, 800 homes.

Assuming those timetables hold, the district might begin the process of building schools on the land in 2009 or 2010, Bavota said - assuming the board doesn't change its mind about accepting the land.

"They may elect to take the money - who knows?" he added.

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.