Developer's plan splits city, county officials

Brooksville officials tell the homebuilder it's okay to keep a road closed to the public.

But county officials say that's not going to happen.


Article Courtesy of the St. Petersburg Times

Published July 21, 2004 

BROOKSVILLE - When developer Levitt & Sons LLC announced plans for a project in southern Brooksville, it had one ironclad demand.

The main road running through the project - from Powell Road to the State Road 50 truck bypass - must be gated and closed to the public.

"They have said the private road concept is key in marketing their type of development," said Bill Geiger, Brooksville's community development director.

The county was just as adamant that the road should be public, and said the city had agreed to this when it settled a lawsuit in November.

The county had sued the city challenging the development of 1,600 acres owned by LandMar Group LLC. Levitt, best-known for developing Levittown subdivisions in New York and Pennsylvania, is buying 411 acres of LandMar's for its 900-home project in Brooksville, called Cascades.

"That was something we understood from the get-go," County Commissioner Diane Rowden said of the road.

Neither side has changed its position, though the city, the county and the developer have been discussing the matter, which is scheduled to come before a joint meeting of the County Commission and the Brooksville City Council on Aug. 5.

One issue they will certainly address is the interpretation of the following passage in the joint agreement:

"The City hereby agrees that the development and construction of the Powell Road connection shall be compelled by the City and accomplished by the owner(s) of the property adjacent to said roadway."

It does not say the road must be open to the public, said Bill Geiger, the city's community development director.

"The previous agreement doesn't specify public or private," he said.

Obviously, any connector road is intended to be public, said Larry Jennings, director of the county's building department.

The larger issue is whether the connector road is needed.

Levitt, relying on a a traffic study paid for by LandMar, said the traffic on U.S. 41 will not be heavy enough to justify the road at least until 2030.

"There's no traffic study that indicates the road needs to be public," said Don Lacey, of Coastal Engineering Associates Inc., which is representing Levitt.

The city and the developer reached a tentative agreement stating Levitt will build the road to collector standards. And, if needed in the future, the city will have the right to condemn it.

The Council has tentatively endorsed this plan, though it has postponed making a final decision until after the Aug. 5 meeting.

The county has several objections to it, Jennings said.

The traffic study, though performed by accepted methods, might not be accurate. Also, if it turns out the road is needed, wresting it from the developer will almost certainly be a battle.

"There is also the issue of how unlikely it would be to convert a private road to a public one in the future and also the cost of it," Jennings said.

Geiger's memo on the proposal cited a similar argument as one of three reasons to oppose the agreement; he also listed seven arguments in favor of allowing the road to be closed.

"If development of this road is permitted as a private facility, it would be politically difficult to convert it to a public facility in the future," Geiger wrote.

This is especially true, said Vice Mayor Joe Bernardini, because Levitt has resisted a suggestion that it tell homebuyers the road eventually might be public.

Though most council members have tentatively agreed to allow the developer to build gates across the road, Bernardini is against it.

One of his reasons is shared with several county officials and others who have been watching the local real estate market: there is no reason for the city to make concessions. If Levitt walks from the deal, as it has threatened to do, another company will develop the same parcel.

"That piece of property is a valuable piece of property," said Bob DeWitt, a Brooksville real estate agent and member of the county Planning and Zoning Commission.

"The city needs to hold their feet to the fire and if Levitt walks away from it, so what? We have a lot to offer them. We have to ask ourselves, what do they have to offer us?"