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Developer, project foes to meet

By JAMES THORNER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 30, 2003

LAND O'LAKES -- Donovan Peterson loves the orange groves, lakes and horse pasture of his Hale Road neighborhood as much as he dislikes the idea of 1,151 homes invading his little piece of paradise.

Peterson's 9 acres share a 1,000-foot boundary with the southern edge of the proposed Dupree Gardens development, named for an amusement park that occupied the grounds in the 1940s.

"The first concern is what it will do to our property values and our privacy with two-story houses next door," Peterson said Friday as he contemplated the suburbanization of his part of Land O'Lakes.

Peterson has joined neighbors in questioning the compatibility of Dupree Gardens, a project Beazer Homes of Tampa envisions for 471 acres between Hale Road and Ehren Cutoff.

Trying to remove public relations obstacles to a May or June rezoning of its property, Beazer has scheduled a meeting with opponents at 6:30 p.m. April 8 at the Land O'Lakes Community Center on U.S. 41.

Beazer points out that it is not demanding maximum use of the land as shown on Pasco County land-use maps -- 1,862 homes. Its 1,151 units represents a mix of single-family houses, apartments and duplexes.

And the developer has proposed placing more expensive homes next to existing lots in the abutting Dupree Gardens Estates neighborhood, said Ben Harrill, the Pasco attorney Beazer has hired.

"It's a question of trying to be as accommodating as we can," Harrill said Friday.

True accommodation might not be possible, however, judging from Peterson's statements. He views Dupree Gardens as too dense, too big and too traffic clogging.

Beazer's entrances would spill traffic onto Hale Road and Ehren Cutoff. Both are two lanes and winding. Another outlet would dump cars onto Collier Parkway once that road is extended north of Hale Road.

The development will jam the area's already crowded schools, Peterson said. It will chase away wildlife that lives among the Dupree property's swamps and orange trees.

"There's a huge herd of deer on that property," he said.

Less believable is his claim that a Florida panther lurks on land behind his house. Florida wildlife officials insist the community, for years in the throes of housing growth, offers scant habitat for the big cats.

Nature was king on the property for most of the 1940s, when the Beazer land hosted part of what was known as the "blossom center of Florida."

About 30,000 visitors a year visited Dupree Gardens' trails braided with flowers such as azaleas, orchids, lilies, camellias and poppies.

Quiet, glass-bottomed electric boats glided across Dupree Lake. A gift shop and restaurant catered to visitors in a season that ran from Nov. 15 to May 1.

But gas and tire rationing during World War II killed what was one of the Tampa Bay area's premier roadside attractions.

The gardens mostly vanished among housing developments, a nudist resort called the Island Group and an orange grove now targeted for the 1,151 homes.

Beazer's development plans preserve the amusement park's old ticket booth, a small building of rough mortared limestone squatting under trees off Ehren Cutoff.

Although the housing development's plans have been open to the public since last summer, Peterson and his allies would like to postpone the rezoning application beyond a probable May hearing before the county commissioners.

Too many questions remain unanswered, Peterson said. "This has come up very fast for us as neighbors," he said.

-- James Thorner covers growth and development in Pasco County. He can be reached at (813) 909-4613 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4613. His e-mail address is thorner@sptimes.com.

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