Parkway construction

Construction continues Friday, Nov. 20, 2020 along West Cardinal Lane and the Suncoast Parkway as the toll-road project progresses through the northern end of Homosassa. Citrus County officials are debating how best to prepare Cardinal for growth from the parkway once it opens in 2022.

That stretch of Cardinal Street in Homosassa where the Suncoast Parkway will intersect is Citrus County’s picture of rural.

Five- and 10-acre tracts of small farms and homes sit on private dirt roads. Commercial activity is scarce and limited. There isn’t a stoplight anywhere until U.S. 19.

Citrus County planners, however, predict that will all change in the years after the Suncoast Parkway’s interchange opens sometime in early 2022.

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The debate hinges on what exactly that vision looks like.

Mike Sherman, the county’s growth management director, is proposing a mixed-use zoning concept that combines residential with stores or offices that can be developed on larger tracts, with the minimum being 20 acres.

He envisions a walking community where shopping, parks and homes are situated in small, tight neighborhoods, served with central water and sewer.

To anyone who looks at Cardinal today and has trouble seeing town centers, Sherman said it’s a 20-year process.

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Sherman told the county’s planning and development commission, or PDC, on Thursday, Nov. 19.

The PDC was conducting its second public hearing about adding the Cardinal interchange management area to the comprehensive plan. Rather than vote on whether to recommend the plan to the county commission, PDC members instead postponed a vote to have more discussion on the plan’s details.

Sherman’s proposal has resulted in a wide variety of responses.

• The Citrus County Building Alliance says the plan won’t work because of stringent requirements: minimum acreage to build, central water and sewer where none now exists, and the proposed rule that each mixed use of the property needs to include a residential element.

• Chuck Dixon, a former Citrus County planning director who holds the same title with Citrus County schools and is a nonvoting member of the PDC, called the proposal good planning. Doing so will avoid cookie-cutter zoning that is likely to take place without it, he said, resulting in a smattering of gas stations and restaurants typical of expressway exits.

PDC Chairman Joel Brender agreed.

“If you don’t have a vision, you can’t create a vision,” he said.

• PDC board member David Bramblett said the proposal would radically change what is now a rural community.

“I still think this is too big for this area,” he said during the PDC meeting. “It’s a little pie in the sky. We’re basically creating a town in the middle of a farm area.”

PDC board member James Roys echoed that sentiment.

“I would hate to see Cardinal Street turn into U.S. 19,” he said.

• Residents who met with Sherman or attended public meetings on the subject wanted to ensure their rural nature stays intact: No tall buildings blocking views or bright lights, Sherman told PDC members.

• County Commission Chairman Scott Carnahan thinks the entire Cardinal interchange discussion should be delayed until the county has a firmer handle on what the State Road 44 interchange will look like.

“We need to stop focusing on Cardinal Lane,” he said in an interview. “We should be focused on 44 because that’s where the development is going to take place. We have plenty of time to drop back to Cardinal.”

Carnahan also believes the 20-acre minimum for development is too restrictive.

“The PDC doesn’t like what they see and I understand,” he said. “Twenty acres — that’s not going to cut it. We need to be looking at small tracts.”

Contact Chronicle reporter Mike Wright at 352-563-3228 or mwright@chronicleonline.com. To view more of his stories, go to www.tinyurl.com/y3bakm6w.