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Zoning panel opposes prison
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 9, 2000
BROOKSVILLE -- The Hernando County Planning and Zoning Commission added its weight Monday to the growing opposition to a federal low-security prison at the county airport.
With a unanimous vote, the panel denied a request to rezone the 74-acre site at the airport's southwest corner for prison use. Its recommendation goes to the County Commission on May 30.
The Planning and Zoning Commission has the right to make any recommendation it sees fit, County Commission Chairman Paul Sullivan said.
"I don't make my decisions based upon the decision of the Planning and Zoning Commission," Sullivan said. "My final determination will be based on information that is provided to me."
He did not think the County Commission will get the chance to decide, though.
"I think Wackenhut will have chosen to go to another county," Sullivan said, refusing to give any details.
Wackenhut Corrections Corp. is a private company seeking to build and manage a low-security detention center for the federal Bureau of Prisons. It has tagged Hernando County as a possible location.
Planning and Zoning members were clear in their views.
"I don't think this is a place to put a prison," said Nick Nicholson, a Planning and Zoning commissioner who is seeking election as a state representative.
He said that the county recently completed baseball and soccer fields at nearby Anderson Snow Park, and that Pasco-Hernando Community College was considering opening a branch on adjacent property.
"To tell me it's not going to make a difference if we put a college 800 feet from a prison, that makes me laugh," Nicholson said.
Commissioner Al Sevier echoed the sentiment, adding that the stigma that comes with a prison will outweigh any real benefits the county might reap. He mentioned that signs near prisons often urge drivers not to pick up hitchhikers because they might be escaped inmates.
"What is that telling people?" Sevier said. "A prison is not a desirable industry."
Since its April 25 resolution supporting the prison, the County Commission has received dozens of letters and calls in that vein. Three residents voiced their concerns at Monday's meeting.
Mark Taylor, a former Planning and Zoning chairman, said he had lost a land development partner after more than two years' planning because news of the prison emerged. He urged the planning commission to reject the rezoning as incompatible with the county's needs.
"Why are we putting our best pretty face on, and the red carpet out, for a project that isn't a 10?" Taylor said, adding that a chemical plant with similar attributes of high wages and high taxes would not get the same treatment.
John Tenini, a frequent County Commission critic, also questioned the value of a prison.
Planning and Zoning members said they had several unresolved issues for which they needed answers, and they almost postponed their vote until June. That action would have killed the project, airport manager Robert Mattingly said, because Wackenhut needed to have a decision sooner.
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