by Kent E. Smith
In an effort to attract economic development, Hernando County officials may raise the maximum height of commercial buildings from 45 feet to 60 feet.
A public hearing on the proposal is slated at 9 a.m. Aug. 9 before the county's Planning and Zoning Commission; if it clears that hurdle it will go before the Hernando County Commission for public hearings Sept. 14 and 28, according to county Planning and Zoning Director Ron Pianta.
Pianta said the measure will apply to commercially-zoned sections of some of the busiest highways in the county, including U.S. 19, State Road 50 and U.S. 41. “It's really a policy decision on what the county commission wants and what kind of businesses they want to attract,” Pianta said. For instance, larger, multi-story hotels might build a facility in the county, but the ordinance would not apply to purely residential apartment or condominium complexes.
Currently building heights can be increased through the county's Master Plan, and that would continue according to a staff recommendation. Pianta noted developers can petition the county for a deviation to increase their building heights on a case-by-case basis, but this measure “would make it an automatic right” so the process is simpler for them.
The plan would keep C-3 zoned structures at 35 feet and buildings in OP or AC zoning at 45 feet. “Option 1” would raise heights in zonings C-1, C-2 and C-4, and option 2 would relax setback flexibility for increased heights. Other sections of the ordinance discuss front, side and rear yard requirements, water-body setbacks, proximity of sound systems, alcoholic beverage sales, convenience stores, loading docks, car-repair garages or drive-through windows to residential districts.
The plan was mostly formulated by Ron's wife, Valerie Pianta, the county's economic development director. “She ensured any big company coming into the county would offer benefits to offset the costs,” County Commissioner Beth Narverud said, including square feet of construction, wages they would pay, taxes and fees, etc. “It's not what you say you would do for us, it's what you'll actually do for us. This plan fits in with the county's identity...She did a great job.”
The former owner of several businesses, Narverud said building the local commercial community is one of her biggest objectives. The commissioner said the ordinance is part of a “new phase” of economic development the county is implementing to bring progress. “Hotels, storage buildings, even hospitals could go ahead with building plans or expansions with this,” she said.
In making recommendations, county staffers surveyed surrounding counties and their building height rules. In Pasco, 60-foot commercial structures are limited to general and heavy development; in Citrus it's 50 feet but can be increased through a waiver or extended setbacks; and in Sumter County regional, heavy or planned commercial buildings can reach 50, but higher is allowed if granted by local government officials.
“This ordinance is really a policy decision for the commissioners on what they want Hernando County to look like and what kind of businesses they want here,” Ron Pianta said.