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SWFWMD to inspect Hidden Lakes RV Resort development in Crystal River

The development of an 85-acre RV resort in Crystal River will be examined to make sure the work on its site was permissible.

A Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) inspection was scheduled for the Hidden Lakes RV Resort after a complaint alleged the clearing of land at 1801 NW U.S. 19, north of the Crystal River Mall, was impacting wetlands without proper permitting from the district.

“Compliance staff are planning to visit the site to investigate the complaint(s) and ongoing construction,” SWFWMD spokeswoman Susanna Martinez Tarokh said Thursday, May 5.

Hidden Lakes RV Resort LLC manager Charlie Dean Jr. said Friday he’s unaware of the complaints, and SWFWMD staff hasn’t told him the progress of his multi-phased development is in violation.

“We have all our permits in place. ... It’s completely compliant,” he said. “I do things by the book; I’ve always done that. I don’t dwell in the gray area; we’re fully compliant in everything that we do.”

According to SWFWMD permit records, the district’s decision to inspect the future location of around 580 RV lots and other communal amenities came after an April 29 complaint claimed the vegetation in over 86 acres of wetlands was removed before a permit to do so was approved.

Records show SWFWMD officials have yet to either approve or deny the Environmental Resource Permit they received April 1, 2021, from Hidden Lakes RV Resort LLC, which is managed by Dean, the son of former county sheriff and state senator Charlie Dean Sr.

Martinez Tarokh said the property has “a history of previous permitting,” and the upcoming SWFWMD inspection “is intended to clarify if some or all of the active construction is covered by previous construction permit authorizations.”

“If not,” she said, “district staff will initiate the appropriate compliance and enforcement process.”

SWFWMD permit records show district inspectors have been monitoring the Hidden Lakes RV Resort project, and have opened a compliance case on it.

Ralph Hansen, the named applicant of the pending SWFWMD permit for Hidden Lakes RV Resort, said Friday the work done so far has been in accordance with a permit SWFWMD officials issued May 4, 2010, for a similar project while the property was under prior ownership.

“What we’re doing was permitted under the old permit,” he said.

In November 2020 and for $3.4 million, Hidden Lakes RV Resort LLC bought the two parcels that make up its development project.

Crystal River City Council had approved a master plan Sept. 28, 2020, for a prior RV resort – Hidden Lakes Preserve – to take shape on the premises, but the project didn’t develop.

Hansen said the approved SWFWMD permit from 2010 hadn’t expired when the city approved the Hidden Lakes RV Resort master plan in 2021 that piggybacked off the OK’d design for Hidden Lakes Preserve, leading to its groundbreaking.

“And there’s been some confusion as to whether or not the permit was extended,” he said. “They have since revisited the permitting process.”

SWFWMD records show the district’s permit from 2010 expired Dec. 28, 2021, and Hidden Lakes RV Resort LLC submitted a request Dec. 17 for an extension.

In order to extend the expiring permit and transfer its ownership, SWFWMD permitters asked Hidden Lakes RV Resort LLC for more information but received a partial response.

Hidden Lakes RV Resort LLC asked for a 90-day extension March 22 to file its replies. SWFWMD officials granted the request, resetting the deadline to July 5.

In the meantime, on April 1, 2021, Hidden Lakes RV Resort LLC applied for a separate and modified SWFWMD permit.

“The current people involved in SWFWMD do not completely agree with the permitting done before,” Hansen said, “and so a number of changes were made in the process of updating the permitting to bring it in accordance with current thinking.”

Martinez Tarokh said SWFWMD staff is reviewing permit responses sent in by Hidden Lakes RV Resort LLC.

“They have also been in touch with the property owner and owners consultant regarding additional information necessary to get the permit application to a complete status,” she said. “A number of outstanding comments have yet to be resolved.”

In February and March, according to SWFWMD permit records, the district informed Dean about a notice of unauthorized construction it had issued because the grading of the Hidden Lakes RV Resort site and filling of the floodplain within it had yet to be permitted for.

SWFWMD officials advised for construction activity to cease until the questions over permitting could be resolved.

“We’re constructing based upon what the permit allots,” Dean said.

At the time it was pitched to City Hall in the spring of 2021, Hidden Lakes RV Resort was being touted as a 55-and-older community of affordable housing for active people, allowing overnight stays or leases for either three, six or 12 months.

Barring delays, Dean said, the first phase of the RV resort is expected “to be up and running this time next year” with 175 RV pads surrounding a clubhouse, pickleball courts, laundry and shower rooms, and other amenities.


Local
Mother’s Day: Generations of teachers in Citrus County

Like grandmother, like mother, and like father, Tara McLeod has followed in the footsteps of family before her by becoming a teacher in Citrus County.

McLeod and her mother, Heather Simmons-Hechavarria, both teach at Inverness Primary School together – McLeod teaching first grade and Hechavarria being a reading interventionist for grades kindergarten through fifth.

Palmira Simmons, Hechavarria’s mother, was also a teacher in Citrus County, having taught at Crystal River Primary School for around 35 years. That’s two generations of daughters following in their mother’s footsteps.

Not only did McLeod have both mother and grandmother to look up to, but her father, Phillip McLeod, is also a teacher and current principal at Crystal River High School.

“I grew up in the classroom,” said McLeod. “I liked helping and I always played ‘school’ at home, so I always loved teaching from the beginning.”

It’s no wonder she went on to become a teacher for her career.

Simmons, now 78 and retired, often volunteers in her granddaughter’s classroom at IPS.

“She helps the students with reading and handwriting,” said McLeod. “So that’s really helpful because she’s been teaching forever and ever. She gives her unique perspective and ideas, and it helps guide how I teach as well.

Hechavarria was also influenced by her own mom growing up.

“My mother was a teacher in Citrus County for a really long time, so that was a big influence,” said Hechavarria. “I loved being around the students and helping out when I was younger.”

She also mentioned that she chose education because it’s not stagnant, saying, “I knew it was going to be changing every day and that I was going to get to interact with students. I just love it, it’s fun to me.”

McLeod also found she had a unique perspective as a teacher due to her dyslexia.

“I struggled in school academically, reading was really difficult for me,” McLeod explained. “I can understand that aspect of when kids are struggling because I did too and I made it on the other side.”

While she struggled with navigating dyslexia throughout school, she was also placed in the gifted program. Learning how to help her daughter through it was what got Hechavarria interested in reading intervention, leading her to her current position at IPS.

Working together at IPS, McLeod and Hechavarria have a unique work relationship where they are able to help each other out in a more open way since they’re also family.

“She comes and helps me when she can or I’ll help her. We can bounce ideas off each other,” said McLeod.

“Yeah I love that part,” Hechavarria continued. “She can give a different perspective on things I suggest because she’s newer in education. And with the newer technology, she helps me sometimes. She gives me that confidence that, when you’re a mom, you used to give to her.”

McLeod actually used to be a student at IPS when she was young, so there’s a bit of nostalgia for Hechavarria and Simmons watching her now walk through the halls as a teacher.

“It’s kind of fun because we’ll be walking down the hall and other teachers will be like, ‘There’s your mom!’ or ‘There’s your grandmother at the door!’” said Hechavarria.

For Mother’s Day this year, they are planning on spending Saturday together at Disney World since McLeod’s sister is in the Disney college program in Orlando – not for education like the rest of her family, though.

“She’s going to be a physician’s assistant,” McLeod said. “She’s breaking the chain.”

Either way, they are a prime example of not just a parent’s positive influence on their child, but a mother’s influence on their daughter and how much a positive relationship between mother and daughter can shape each other’s lives for the better.

More mother & daughter teacher pairings in Citrus County

Victoria Lofton, principal at Lecanto Primary School, and Litamarie Stanton, teacher at CHS Academy of Computer Sciences:

Victoria Lofton, mother of Litamarie Stanton, is finishing her 29th year in education. She wanted to be a teacher since she was 5 years old.

Lofton

“I’ve lived in Citrus County 49 years and graduated from Citrus High School,” said Lofton. “My daughter was raised here, graduated from CHS and now teaches there. My three grandchildren are currently attending Lecanto Primary School. We are truly a product of Citrus County Schools and are proud to be.”

Stanton has been working in education for 12 years now.

“My mom motivated me to become a teacher,” said Stanton. “Ironically, I always said I would never follow in her footsteps, but I was wrong. I can’t imagine my life any different.”

Stanton

The two have a very close relationship, one that Lofton cherishes greatly.

“We are best friends,” she mentioned. “I am so incredibly proud of the educator she is. She balances life as a wife, mother, daughter, coach, and educator and does it all amazingly well.”

For Mother’s Day, they will be traveling to Orlando to attend Stanton’s daughter’s final dance competition. Stanton also has a lunch planned with a surprise gift for her mother.

Deborah Dumas, Citrus eSchool principal, and Carol Dumas, seventh grade teacher at Inverness Middle School:

Deborah Dumas has worked in education in Citrus County for 22 years, only taking time off once her daughter, Carol Dumas, was born.

D. Dumas

“She took time off while my siblings and I were young,” said Carol. “During that time, Mom home-schooled my brother and me at different points. She impressed on me the importance of reading by taking me to the library each week. This was the time in my life that I really fell in love with reading.”

Deborah eventually rejoined the school system and Carol went on to become a teacher like her mom, this being her fifth year teaching.

“I’d always loved school and enjoyed the relationship I had with many of my teachers,” said Deborah. “I was very interested in child development and psychology, so I decided to major in elementary education.”

It was a love she passed onto her daughter.

“I always knew I wanted to work with middle and high school aged students,” Carol explained. “The “ah-ha” moments students had when they grasped a concept motivated me.”

C. Dumas

For Mother’s Day, the two will be spending time together by having lunch with Deborah’s mom, Ann Hansen, as well as Deborah’s sister, Donna Olsen, who is a teacher at Homosassa Elementary School, and brother, Earnie Olsen, who is supervisor of the Marine Science Station in Crystal River, and his family.

Melanie Howard, assistant principal at CREST, and Haley Baldner, third grade teacher at Forest Ridge Elementary:

Melanie Howard, the current assistant principal at CREST School, has worked in education for 33 years now. Her daughter, Haley (Dewhurst) Baldner, is finishing her second year in education, which has been “nothing short of an adventure.”

Howard

While Howard was motivated to become a teacher by one of her favorite teachers in middle school, Paula Cavallo, her daughter was motivated by the many years she spent admiring Howard’s “purpose.”

Baldner

“The previous job I had did not give me my sense of purpose and left me longing for more,” said Baldner. “I knew my mom was out there making a difference in her students’ lives and that was extremely endearing to me. I have witnessed my mother keep the same driving purpose/passion throughout her entire, evolving career. Because of my mom, I decided to use my psychology degree in an alternative way and believe that I have found my purpose in working with children.”

Howard is evidently very proud of her daughter and the teacher she has become.

“She has a very bright future ahead of her in education, and I can’t wait to see where it takes her,” said Howard.

For Mother’s day, the two plan to spend it together along with Baldner’s other siblings.

Howard left on a note that many mothers would likely agree with, quoting the famous saying, “Here’s to strong women, may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.”


Local
County's new coronavirus infections continue to increase

The number of coronavirus infections in Citrus County continued to climb last week, mirroring a Florida and national trend when many thought the pandemic had run its course.

During the week ending May 1, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 147 new cases in Citrus County. That was an increase from a reported 91 new cases during the week ending April 21. It was also an increase from the 55 from the previous week and only 14 new cases ending the week of April 7.

There was only one Citrus County death due to the virus during the weekend ending May 1, according to the CDC.

That now brings the county’s total number of infected to 29,934 and deaths to 976.

There were only six hospitalizations in Citrus County due to the virus. That was similar to the previous week. Typically, hospitalizations lag new infections by a few weeks.

The Citrus County trend mirrors that which is seen in Florida.

The daily average of new Florida cases as of May 6 was 4,522, according to the New York Times, which collects and tabulates COVID-19 data. That daily average was a 58 percent increase over the previous 14 days in Florida. As of May 6, there have been a total of 5,952,643 cases of the virus in Florida.

Florida hospitalizations due to COVID-19 was also up to an average of 1,316 per day. That was a 25 percent increase from the previous 14 days, according to the New York Times.

Florida deaths due to the pandemic was an average of 21 per day as of May 6. That was an 8 percent increase over the previous 14 days.

That left Florida with a total of 5,952,643 infected since the pandemic began two years ago and 74,039 deaths, according to the New York Times.

Nationally, there was an average of 67,953 new cases daily. That was a 59 percent increase over the previous 14 days, according to the New York Times. As of May 6, there was an average of 18,181 new hospitalizations in the US.

Deaths due to the virus were slightly down with an average of 366 per day nationally, according to the New York Times. That was a decline of 3 percent from the previous 14 days. But deaths and hospitalizations tend to lag new cases by three to six weeks. NBC news tabulated this week that deaths due to the virus surpassed one million nationally, just 27 months after the virus was first detected in the country.


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