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Two pages, and town is (almost) born

The 1974 "new town'' development order was a slice of brevity compared to today's guidelines.

By JAMES THORNER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 4, 2002

If you want to build a city in Pasco County without nagging government oversight, take a time machine back to 1974.

Lake Padgett Pines, the never-developed "new town" of 8,800-homes, factories, schools and parks approved 28 years ago, was a case in point.

Back during the administration of Gerald Ford, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, which oversees large area projects, recommended against building Lake Padgett Pines.

But the landowner, state senator-turned-developer DeCarr Covington, had more luck with Pasco commissioners, who voted unanimously for the project.

When it came to development, the county acted as if it were handing its teenage son keys to the Porsche and asking him not to speed -- at least compared to today's rules that mandate sidewalks, wildlife surveys and school and park impact fees.

In the files at the county building in New Port Richey, there's a yellowing copy of Covington's development order, the government blessing he needed to start digging. It's only two pages and deals mostly with roads needed to serve the project.

When landowners came back in 1989 to update the development order, times had changed.

Then-county attorney Ben Harrill clobbered them with a list of new requirements. Developers had to meet tougher standards for things such as traffic, ground water pollution and fire protection.

Harrill concluded the list with a warning that it was only "superficial." Developers could expect an even heavier regulatory burden if they proceeded.

"The development order that DeCarr Covington got in 1974 is two pages long," said John Grandoff, attorney for the owners of what's left of Lake Padgett Pines property. "Now those orders are as thick as an encyclopedia."

Lake Padgett Pines never really got started, thumped by a recession in the mid '70s. On the residential side, the only progress was a few hundred homes in and around the Eagle Island Estates neighborhood.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District bought 1,431 acres of the 3,355 acres. Canals dug by Covington followed the boundaries of the many cypress swamps on the property. Most have gone native with trees, grass and lily pads.

The only school built of Covington's project, Pine View Middle School, squats solitarily along Parkway Boulevard, the only major road built with millions collected from a defunct road and bridge district.

But with development pressure pushing northward -- the section of U.S. 41 nearest the property is being turned into six lanes -- it won't be long before builders come begging for the surviving 1,500 acres of Lake Padgett Pines.

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