Wednesday, November 22, 2017
News Roundup

Hernando planning board rejects plans for retreat

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BROOKSVILLE — Plans to use a 20-acre tract near the Croom Tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest for a healing center and retreat were derailed this week with a thumbs down from the Hernando County Planning and Zoning Commission.

Residents who live near the rural property on Walking Horse Trail sent letters and lined up at the microphone for the public hearing Tuesday. They argued that the planned retreat violated community restrictions, brought strangers and transients into the area, had started operations without any of the necessary permits and compounded problems on the narrow dirt access road serving the community.

Property owners Travis Morehead and Shannon Hernandez said the retreat, the Great Spirit Farm Healing & Retreat Center, would provide a variety of services to people who needed peace and quiet and an opportunity to get back to nature. With horseback riding, massage therapy and uninterrupted time for spiritual reflection, the site offered many features for those in need, the applicants argued.

Occasional drum circles, rustic cabins available for rent through Airbnb and the wedding venue were other features the couple listed in their presentation.

Supporters of the concept gave glowing reports of the couple and their deep love of the environment, their commitment to providing a facility that would improve the community, and their knowledge of healing ceremonies and natural medicinal aides.

But residents in the rural area had a different perspective of the proposed activity on their residential neighborhood and equestrian lifestyle.

Commercial activity and any development other than single family residences were not allowed by the property restrictions and the couple knew that when they decided to establish the farm, according to Larry Cooper. He said there would likely be legal action by the neighbors if the application was approved.

Michele Paige said that she bought acreage in the area 15 years ago because she wanted peace and quiet, and that the applicants "care nothing for our way of life.''

She was concerned about public statements made by the couple about the number of events they planned for the site and was worried about the traffic. Business already conducted there has already changed the atmosphere, which Paige likened to "Grand Central Station.''

"We don't know who is in our community,'' she said.

Planning Commission members raised questions about the access road and the appropriateness of the proposed activity in the community.

"I've got a lot of concerns about this,'' said planning board member John Scharch. "I just think it is an inappropriate place because it's so much off the beaten path.''

Commission members unanimously denied the request for a special exception use permit, a vote that ends the application unless the couple seeks an appeal before the County Commission.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

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