Rural Shiloh Country may give way to development


Published: Tuesday, August 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
OCALA - Tucked in the northwest corner of Marion County lies Shiloh Country, a quiet community where cattle cross the road and neighbors remember when Zetrouer's old country store was open for business - and wistfully wish it still were.
Jerome Feaster rests comfortably on a narrow bench in front of the old store, where he used to sit eating ice cream when he was a young boy.
"The property I live on has been in my family since 1891," Feaster said.
Shiloh Country is a place where people like Jeff Rubin, a pediatrician who has lived there for 40 years, still considers himself a "newcomer." The area is rife with history.
But the community could soon change. Developer John Rudnianyn has proposed two large-scale amendments to the county's comprehensive plan that affect 1,200 acres in Shiloh Country. The Marion County Commission will decide Thursday whether to transmit Rudnianyn's requests to the state for consideration.
That upsets people like Feaster. "It's a 'pioneer farm,' " Feaster said about his homestead. That is a designation given by the state Department of Agriculture to families that have maintained continuous ownership of their farms for 100 years.
Jim Mixson is concerned, too. "My daddy and my granddaddy and me were born in the same room in the same house," Mixson said.
Another neighbor, Jeanne Chitty-Campbell, is a fifth-generation cattle rancher.
Her herd of registered cattle is the oldest Angus herd in Florida.
She owns about 450 acres in Shiloh Country.
"My grandfather farmed it," Chitty-Campbell said proudly about Stardust Ranch. She is a descendant of the Zetrouers and Chittys, both pioneer farm families.
Her mother, Jeanette Zetrouer Chitty, who had cancer, signed the contract around 2000 that gave Rudnianyn part of the 1,200 acres he is proposing to develop. Ever since then - "and 16 lawyers later" - Chitty-Campbell has been unsuccessful in getting her family's land back.
Her husband, Chad Campbell, said he would be satisfied if Rudnianyn would develop the land as agricultural, meaning one house per 10 acres.
Urban sprawl Rudnianyn is asking the county to consider a large-scale amendment to the comprehensive plan that would make a new land-use classification called a "conservation community."
His plan, if approved, would consist of about 240 homes on one- to 1-acre lots with an on-sight central water and sewer system.
The property is about one mile west of County Road 329 on the north side of County Road 320.
The county's Planning Commission and staff have recommended denial, saying the proposals are not compatible with the area.
"It's totally surrounded by rural land," Planning Director Dwight Ganoe said. "Sometimes it's hard to define urban sprawl but, if that's not, I don't know what would be."
Shiloh Country sits on the Alachua County border. Feaster, Mixson and Chitty-Campbell's land is in Marion County. Rubin's property is in Alachua County. There aren't any Wal-Marts or Targets or convenience stores. There aren't any police stations or fire houses. There isn't even a school there.
What is there are hickory, sweet gum, loblolly and longleaf pines and white oak trees.
"He's creating an artificial city where there is no infrastructure to support it," said Jim Gant, another neighbor from the Alachua County side of the community.
"I think it's despicable," Chitty-Campbell said. "It's not conducive for the way that the property is used around here."
Wetland damage And the neighbors are concerned about Morse Pond, a roughly 400-acre prairie on Rudnianyn's land that is dry until the rains come. At times, it has filled to 4 or 5 feet deep.
"Everything drains to Morse Pond," Chitty-Campbell said.
The water from Morse Pond flows about a mile via a slough to Ledwith Lake, which goes to Kanapha Sinkhole in Alachua County.
Rudnianyn's clearing has damaged some of the wetlands, including part of Morse Pond, according to a report by Lisa Rinehart, a Southwest Florida Water Management District staff field technician Lisa Rinehart.
"We haven't done anything in these wetlands but clean up," Rudnianyn said. "The situation we had was a bunch of trees got knocked down with hurricanes."
He did not get permits or agricultural exemptions to do the clearing.
"If there was unauthorized wetland activity, it certainly was unintentional," Rudnianyn said.
According to Rinehart's report, Rudnianyn, at first, said someone else did the work but later mentioned that his son had done the work. Rinehart and district Environmental Scientist Michael Sommers told Rudnianyn to stay out of the wetlands and not use heavy equipment until he gets the proper permits.
According to the report, Rudnianyn replied, "When we are finished we'll stay out of those areas."
Sommers sent Rudnianyn a letter asking him to contact the district in writing by July 28 with a plan and schedule for mitigating the unauthorized impacts. As of July 28, Rudnianyn had not responded.
He said he lost the letter and would respond this week.
Higher density "Higher density reduces urban sprawl," Rudnianyn said. "This is a neat piece of land. This is on the cutting edge of rural environmental development."
He said that by clustering the units, more open space is available. He said he will be providing a permanent conservation easement on the property that will leave much of the land undeveloped.
"When you buy an acre, you are really buying 780 acres," he said. He said he would not build the homes but would sell lots. He said a lot would cost about $150,000-$200,000.
Gail Stern, a founding member of Marion County Citizens Coalition, opposes both of Rudnianyn's large-scale amendments.
"It sounds wonderful," Stern said. "What is he conserving? He's got a lot of good buzz words in there, but what does it mean?"
She said density would be doubled if the "conservation community" land use were approved.
"You call it 'conservation community' and you have increased your density," Stern said. "It's like an automatic 'get out of jail free' card. It's great. But who's going to pay for that in the long run?"
She said the residents of Marion County will have to pay for the schools and teachers and other infrastructure to support development in a rural area, not to mention the county's future water needs.
"Somewhere down the road we are going to pay," Stern said. "I would like to ask him exactly what he's conserving."

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