The BOCC voted 4-1 at the regular meeting on Tuesday, January 14, 2020 to postpone the application of Sycamore Engineering and J.D. Alsabbagh to rezone the parcel located at Powell Road and Raines Road from agricultural (AG) to a planned development project (PDP).
The applicant postponed with the intention of modifying the application to bolster their position in a future meeting.
Commissioner Steve Champion voted against the measure.
The lengthy discussion that took place addressed the primary concerns of housing density with respect to other zoning in the area, inconsistency with the county comprehensive plan, and increased congestion on Powell Road.
Attorney Darryl Johnston of Johnston and Sasser, P.A., along with Buddy Selph, a qualified expert in real estate discussed the need and market for the project intended to be called Westchester Preserve. Its closest neighbor landmark is the westernmost edge of Hernando Oaks.
According to Selph, the lag in homebuilding since the recession prior to 2010 has created the need for new housing inventory. “If (realtors) didn’t list any more houses, we’d be sold out in a couple of months. The lack of supply is driving up price.”
Selph added that smaller lots have become a financial necessity since the cost of construction has increased. “(Smaller lots) is not something the market suddenly said we wanted to have, it’s what they can afford.”
Regarding the zoning change being inconsistent with the comprehensive plan, Johnston displayed a map depicting the planned area, showing similar planned areas to the east and west of the property.
Johnston also disputed the other reasons for the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) denial, including environmental considerations and buffering, the prematurity of the project and lack of infrastructure. He offered engineering solutions to address the potential for flooding.
Commissioner Jeff Holcomb had concerns about the expansion of Powell Road. It is not included in the project, and the concern is that the current two-lane configuration without turn lanes would be problematic.
BOCC Chairman John Mitten added that he is a strong proponent of expanding Powell Road. “It’s right in there in the heart of the population of Hernando County. It is a very good east-west corridor, it goes all the way from Deltona (Blvd.) to Spring Lake Highway.”
Sally Raines-Gomer was the first citizen to comment. Raines Road was named for her family, and she grew up in the area. Currently living on the corner of Powell and Raines, she calls Powell Road “a nightmare.” Raines-Gomer expressed concern about adding density to the area. “We understand this is going to be residential, and not agricultural forever. But it’s just not possible at this time. Maybe in 2045, when you get Powell Road expanded…”
Not being facetious, Raines-Gomer referred to the existing plan to expand Powell — which is planned to take place in 2045.
Other residents brought photos of flooding and testimony of changes that came with development over time, including the development of Hernando Oaks. “The joke is ‘Hernando Soaks,’ ” one local resident said, stating that water was forced into her neighborhood when the development was built.
Commissioner Steve Champion was concerned about consistent land use in the area. On Powell, across from the proposed site is an area zoned as commercial. Commissioner Steve Champion described the plan for that project as, “A rural setting farm-to-table type restaurant… with a great farm view. They didn’t envision (a subdivision) with almost 3 units per acre across the street.”
Addressing the density issue further, Commissioner John Allocco said, “If this was right on (US Hwy) 41, I don’t think we would be having too much of a discussion right now.” He added that this project might make sense in the future, but it does not right now.
Correction issued 1/21/2020: The article was corrected to state that Steve Champion voted against the motion to postpone the application.