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Massive Spring Hill development gets two county approvals in one week

BROOKSVILLE — Plans for a large housing and town-center project proposed in Spring Hill got two critical nods of approval this week.

On Monday, the Hernando County Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously recommended rezoning 450 acres to make way for Spring Center, a mixed-use community that would bring as many as 3,000 new homes. And on Tuesday, the County Commission approved a change to the county’s comprehensive plan allowing the project to move forward.

The County Commission still must vote on the rezoning. And a myriad of detailed agreements related to the project will require county approval in the months and years ahead. Build-out is expected to take two decades.

The two votes this week show universal county support for a project tucked into the middle of already-developed portions of Spring Hill. Spring Center’s housing units would range from single-family homes to apartments, and possibly residences above businesses in the town center.

The town center also would include commercial and office buildings, as well as government services and potentially a transit hub. Spring Center would be tied together by multi-purpose paths and include land for parks and green space, according to those representing developer TTG Properties.

Unlike previous sessions on the large project, there was little public input at the Planning and Zoning meeting.

Nearby resident John Feins voiced concern about adding more traffic to Dunkirk Road.

"It’s not a big road,’’ he said, suggesting access from larger roadways to the north. "It’s totally ridiculous."

Spring Hill resident Jennifer Sullivan called the plan "vast and vague.’’ She asked who would pay for the needed road improvements, traffic lights and utilities.’’

"It’s a boondoggle,’’ she said. "It’s too big. It’s too enclosed ... and I would recommend doing it incrementally.’’

But Don Lacey and Cliff Manuel of Coastal Engineering, who represented the developer, praised the master planning process for big projects like Spring Center.

They also suggested a change from their last presentation, which would use Chalmer Street and Stephanie Drive as primary access points to the east and south of Spring Center. County planners said they couldn’t approve the changes because they were new since their last review.

Instead, they took those changes to the County Commission for approval on Tuesday.

There, planners faced a larger crowd of residents worried that Spring Center would snarl traffic, crowd local schools and put additional tax burdens on current residents.

Without a planned development, commissioners told them, developers will keep building the same patchwork of housing areas that comprise Spring Hill now. Plus, Spring Center would give Spring Hill the downtown that original developer Deltona never gave it.

"This is a unified process,’’ said Ron Pianta, the county development services director.

At each phase of the project, the developer must get county agreements on traffic impacts, road-funding obligations, school-enrollment issues and other aspects impacting the community.

Commissioner John Allocco called ongoing questions about paying for improvements "fear mongering," and said the concept of a walkable community with a town center has become popular in other places.

"This is what people are asking for right now, and we don’t have it in Hernando County,’’ Allocco said.

Commissioners agreed to add Chalmer Street and Stephanie Drive as potential access points for Spring Center and unanimously approved requested changes to the comprehensive plan.

Commissioners have plenty of time to explore all the concerns, said commissioner John Mitten. To him, the vote came down to imagining how the big green swatch of land in the middle of Spring Hill would look in the future.

"I think it’s the right move,’’ Mitten said. "It’s something incredibly unique.’’

Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

>>>Previous coverage:> Commission green-lights 450-acre planned community in Spring Hill>>

>>>Previous coverage:> Planning board gives nod to Spring Center project>>

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