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Tradewinds moves forward

The project expects to start building along the river this spring, but might need more approval.

By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 6, 2002

HOMOSASSA -- While the proposed Halls River Retreat project continues to stir debate about the future of this quiet fishing village, a larger project less than a mile downstream is quietly inching toward fruition.

Wrecking crews have cleared away most of the 70 mobile homes and nine cabins at the Tradewinds Marina and Mobile Home Park on W Fishbowl Drive where about 103 seasonal and full-time residents were evicted last summer.

Within the next few months, Van Der Valk Tradewinds president Peter Groenendijk hopes, the 17-acre mobile home park will begin its transformation into an upscale, gated community with 71 homes overlooking the Homosassa River.

The project is a mixed bag for environmentalists: It will remove dozens of septic tanks along the river and connect to the county's central sewer system, but the property will have almost as many dwellings and boats as before.

"You're trading one for the other," said Winston Perry, member of the Save the Homosassa River Alliance. "What can you say?"

The first changes will appear along the waterfront, where Groenendijk plans to demolish and rebuild the 84 covered boat slips along the slender canal that cuts through the property. The existing boat slips date back to 1968, according to property appraiser's records, and years of wear and tear have left them in "terrible shape," Groenendijk said.

The waterfront plans, as detailed in a recent permit application to the Army Corps of Engineers, also include dredging 4,185 cubic yards of sediment from the canal, laying a 1,131-foot boardwalk around the canal, and building a nature trail and small gazebo in the wetlands abutting the river.

If the Army Corps approves his permit after the public comment period closes Jan. 13, Groenendijk hopes to finish the work before the first model homes are built in May.

"There is apparently a high demand for single-family homes along the river. There are not that many places available anymore, so we consider ourselves in a very unique position there," Groenendijk said. "But rather than do something half-way, we want to have everything in place."

Yet one important thing remains out of place: County approval of the 71-home site plan.

The county's Planning and Development Review Board approved a plan in June 2000 for 30 duplexes and 15 single-family homes on the site, for a total of 75 units. Some time after that, however, the developer began marketing a different plan with 71 single-family homes.

Although the number of dwellings is almost the same, the new plan would still need county approval before Van Der Valk could pull its building permits, Community Development Director Chuck Dixon said.

"If they want to vary from what was approved, they would have to go through the same (public hearing) process again," Dixon said.

Last May, county planners sent a letter to that effect to Wayne Kelley of Artistic Home Builders Inc., the real estate and construction firm handling the project at the time.

But Groenendijk said he knew nothing of the county's concern: "My understanding was you can do one (plan) or the other, as long as you don't do more (units) than you were approved for." He added, however, that he would seek whatever approval is necessary.

Whenever the construction phase of the Tradewinds project moves forward, it won't be with Artistic Home Builders, a company based in the Citrus County town of Hernando.

The company has gone into financial free fall in recent months, with dozens of liens for unpaid contractor work piling up against Artistic Home Builders and some of the homeowners it represented.

(Artistic Home Builders should not be confused with an unrelated Hernando County business, Artistic Homes Enterprises of Spring Hill.)

Groenendijk dropped Artistic Home Builders a few months back, he said, and created Van Der Valk Construction to build the three- and four-bedroom homes planned at the Tradewinds.

"Everybody has their prices, and (Artistic Home Builders) have increased their prices considerably lately and we are not happy about that," Groenendijk said. "We didn't feel it was appropriate, with us being one of their largest clients."

He would not elaborate on Artistic Home Builders' asking prices.

But he did say the sale prices for the two-story Tradewinds homes would start at $275,000. Depending on the number of bedrooms, the homes will have between 1,600 and 1,800 square feet of living space, Groenendijk said.

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