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Builder agrees to wildlife buffer

If commissioners approve, Oakstead's developers will add trees and take other steps to keep homes from squeezing an existing wildlife corridor.

By JAMES THORNER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 7, 2002

The wildlife corridor whose unexpected presence tripped up plans to build an elementary school in the Oakstead neighborhood will become a lot harder to miss.

On Thursday, Pasco County's Development Review Committee persuaded Oakstead developers to swaddle the corridor in trees, ban construction from the pathway and eventually dedicate the land to the neighborhood association for upkeep.

The conditions, part of a zoning amendment for the 1,200-home project northwest of State Road 54 and U.S. 41, need the final approval of county commissioners later this month.

The wildlife corridor stems from a May 2000 legal settlement between a group of Oakstead opponents called Citizens for Sanity and Oakstead's Devco Development Corp.

Citizens for Sanity had sued Pasco County over a lack of protection for deer and other animals at Oakstead, which occupies what was once a relatively unscathed 841 acres of pasture and forest.

Devco, which intervened in the lawsuit on Pasco's side, ended the impasse by agreeing to preserve a corridor running roughly north to south through the property.

One spur of the wildlife corridor near Lake Patience Road crossed part of the 29 acres Devco president Don Buck agreed to sell the Pasco School District in April for a middle and elementary school.

But school officials insist Devco never alerted them to the corridor as they bargained over the land. Buck said the information was available had school officials examined maps at the county building.

With the wildlife corridor crossing what is supposed to be a school entrance and sports fields, the school district must search elsewhere for an elementary school site. In compensation, the district wants to reduce the $578,960 it had agreed to pay Devco.

To prevent such problems in the future, the county unveiled a list of eight last-minute conditions. The conditions had the added benefit of assuring the wildlife corridor won't be squeezed by home construction in Oakstead.

At the development review meeting in Dade City on Thursday, Devco's construction manager, Craig Weber, immediately agreed to the terms, earning praise from Citizens for Sanity members in the audience.

"Don Buck and Jeb Bush did a lot of changing in the last couple months. Everybody seems to be getting on the preservationist bandwagon," said Dan Rametta of Citizens for Sanity.

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