On May 8, 2018, the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) acting in its Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) capacity, discussed updates to the Kass Circle Community Redevelopment Area plan. Senior Planner Michelle Miller began the presentation with the history and progression of the project. The grant-funded study of the neighborhood began in 2014, and in 2016, a Finding of Necessity was completed, and a resolution was adopted by the BOCC in 2016. The CRA was formed during this time.
Several representatives from key agencies spoke to the board about the benefits of the revitalization project. The board expressed a hesitancy to have the county government involved in the project, which has departed from rebuilding infrastructure to focus on more socially-focused services and outreach, placing emphasis on community identity and engagements, housing and homelessness, community oriented policing and economic development.
The “Vision Plan” originally addressed physical infrastructure needs and laid groundwork for physical development, such as leveling and rebuilding of the shopping center facing Spring Hill Drive. However, according to Miller, it did not address core concerns of the community, such as lack of community identity and culture, homelessness, lack of affordable housing, lack of economic base, as well as property owner investment.
BOCC Chairman Steve Champion asked Miller if there have been any studies to show that the community actually wants to go forward with the redevelopment. His concern is that with new business development on Cortez Blvd / SR-50, and new businesses that the planned Spring Center will bring, “(Businesses) are going over to 50, they’re not going over (to Kass Circle).”
Miller answered that a neighborhood study was completed and found that, “They want to be a better version of themselves, they don’t want to become another State Road 50. They want to be kitschy, they want to be unique.” She described some of the intended business tenants as “non-traditional,” such as second-hand shops and wellness centers.
The Community Identity concepts described in the presentation focus on neighborhood elements such as pedestrian system of trails and boardwalks and community parks. It would also include a library mini-branch with consultation services, e-government services to residents needing assistance accessing food stamps, cash assistance, other benefits, community classes such as cooking, dancing and sewing. Events and activities that will increase visibility of Kass Circle are also envisioned.
Commissioner Jeff Holcomb, who voted against the plan and ensuing CRA in 2016, asked about the intended role of the Hernando County Government. “There’s a place where government doesn’t belong,” said Holcomb. Commissioner John Allocco posed the question, with respect to the possibility of housing costs increasing after a successful improvement project.
Miller reports that there is no request for any funding from the county, and that funding is being worked out with the Mid-Florida Homeless Coalition, and other existing private sources. She went on to say that it’s possible that county funds may be applied for in the future for marketing purposes.
Chairman Champion noted that the largest part of the discussion focused not on improvements that would attract new business to Kass Circle, but on the social issues. “You’re not going to make it more attractive … you’re going to concentrate the poorest population in one area. It’s already that way, but if you’re attracting more of it, it brings property values down, and it would make it worse.”
Miller said that the issue is a shortage of housing stock. Only 16% of people in the neighborhood are homeowners, and with the involvement of Habitat for Humanity, those numbers could be increased. Champion mentioned the housing projects of the 1970s that turned Brooksville into the “crime center of the county.” Miller said there will be more evaluation of housing with regard to business attraction going forward.
Community meetings are to be announced for June and July, and another BOCC meeting is expected in August or September, and if approved, the implementation will begin in October of this year.