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Mudding proposal expected in June


Published:   |   Updated: March 11, 2013 at 05:49 PM
SEBRING -

When Highlands County commissioners last saw Gabe White and Jeff Kennedy on Nov. 30, they wanted to stage a major mud bogging event in May, perhaps to coincide with Memorial Day.

Now, July 4 may be out of the question.

On Tuesday, Community Service Director Mark Hill shared a timeline of when commissioners might have the draft of a special events ordinance ready to be considered. Hill's answer: June 19.

Kennedy and White represent Swamp Hammock, a ranch on Marguerite Road, east of the Hardee-DeSoto-Highlands county lines. The two have proposed having mud bogging events on the ranch, which had been slated for a housing development until the recession hit.

They first approached South Florida Water Management District last summer, and the county commission in October.

Without taking an official vote in November, and even though they professed not to be tailoring an ordinance for Swamp Hammock, county commissioners agreed to allow four major events per year.

On Tuesday, Hill had gathered events ordinances from Broward, Levy and Putnam counties to use as models in preparing a law for Highlands County. He proposed allowing six major events a year — 1,000 people or more. Minor events would draw 200 people.

If Kennedy and White want more than six annual major events, they should be required to apply for a theme park license, Hill said.

In November, commissioners assented to allowing several small events a year, but only four major events where loud, supercharged trucks might attend. Swamp Hammock plans to allow overnight camping.

"People like to be off the beaten path," White said. "They want to be out in the woods. That's where we like to do it."

According to Hill's timeline, a draft ordinance was prepared on Feb. 10. He planned a public meeting March 5. The planning and zoning commission would consider the ordinance in March and April, and the first public hearing could be May 15. An adoption hearing could happen around June 19.

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Kennedy is about finished with the South Florida Water Management District's amended permit and hopes to have approval to pump water for the mud pits in two to three months.

"They thought it was a great idea, an adaptive reuse of the development," Kennedy said.

The South Florida district has permitted eight mud bogging facilities; the Southwest Florida district has three or four, Kennedy said, and four others are in the St. John water district.

"We have a list of 18 facilities," he said.

"I'm not satisfied with the ordinance, the last draft we saw," he said. "Hopefully, we can lobby at an upcoming meeting for what we're trying to do here."

Kennedy said the draft ordinance would require a two-step process: technical reviews with zoning, engineering, planning, health and other departments; then an appearance before the county commission for final approval.

"That leaves us at the whim of the politicians," Kennedy said.

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