After sitting vacant for 20 years, the Betz Farm property north of Turkey Oak Drive in Crystal River is going to be sold to a home developer.

County commissioners Tuesday voted unanimously to sell the 350-acre site to Hamid Ashtari, a real estate developer at Tampa-based Sweetwater Group, who submitted the best and highest bid at $6.6 million.

County commissioners in 2017 took ownership of the Betz site as surplus property for eventual sale.

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The property was appraised in 2020 at $5.38 million. The land has been sitting undeveloped for years and considered a prime economic development site because of its connection to two major highways – State Road 44 and U.S. 19.

Ron Kitchen Jr.

Kitchen Jr.

“This is a sizable (transaction) and I’m most happy to get it back on the tax rolls,” County Commissioner Ron Kitchen Jr. said.

The money will go toward the building of a new animal shelter.

Kitchen asked County Attorney Denise Dymond Lyn what assurances are in place to ensure development will occur down the road.

Lyn said there are no contingencies in the contract as to how the property will be developed. However, there is a Development of Regional Impact (DRI) overlay on the property the buyer will have to comply with.

The DRI approves the site for 1,014 homes and 528 condominiums.

Manatees get more protectionCommissioners unanimously voted to adopt a new manatee protection zone ordinance, which creates a year-round slow speed zone on a portion of the Homosassa River.

County commissioners directed staff to draft the ordinance and send it to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) for review. The area has shown an increase in manatees and boaters.

From April 1 through Nov. 15, seasonal manatee zones require boaters to slow down in certain areas to prevent manatees from being injured or killed by motorboats or personal watercraft.

Commissioner Jeff Kinnard has said boating traffic in that section of the river has increased to the point that it’s dangerous for humans and manatees to have 25-mph speed zones in the summer months.

Beverly Hills to pay more for beauty

In a 4-1 vote, commissioners approved raising the annual Municipal Service Benefit Unit (MSBU) beautification assessment from the current $9 per lot to $15.

Commercial businesses and golf courses would see their annual assessment go up from $25 to $42 per acre or from $10 to $17 – whichever is greater.

The fee increase would go into effect on people’s tax bills starting Oct. 1, 2022.

The assessment is a “fair, efficient and effective method of funding these essential public services,” reads the notice sent to residents. Those services include mowing, street lighting and landscaping.

Commissioner Scott Carnahan voted nay and said afterward people are spending enough these days due to inflation and don’t need to be saddled with higher costs.

Michael D. Bates is a staff writer with the Citrus County Chronicle and can be reached at