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Massive developments waiting en masse

The county's population explosion and available land attract five proposals mixing housing, retail and office space.

By JAMES THORNER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 20, 2003


They're the heavyweights of the development world, attracting tons of traffic and leaving a big imprint on the earth.

They're Developments of Regional Impact, projects that pack such a big punch they need approval of about 20 local, state and federal agencies before they're allowed to begin.

And when it comes to promoting these developments, known as DRIs, Pasco County is the Don King of the Tampa Bay area.

Regionally, six of these projects await first-time approval. Five are in Pasco on or near State Road 54 from Land O'Lakes to Wesley Chapel. Manatee County holds the other yet-to-be-approved DRI.

"The list speaks for itself. I don't have to say anymore," said John Meyer, DRI coordinator for the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, who has watched Pasco seize a huge share of the development pie in the past few years.

Pasco's breadth of orange groves and ranches ripe for development and its allure as a moderately priced suburb of Tampa are driving interest from developers.

The latest group of DRIs slated for Pasco -- Long Lake Ranch, Sunlake Centre, Cypress Creek Town Center, Oakley Plaza and Bexley Ranch -- include 12,600 houses and apartments. Commercial prospects are equally intense: at least 5-million square feet of retail, room enough for 100 Publix supermarkets. Proposed offices total 1.3-million square feet.

The county's brick-and-mortar bonanza is reflected in the latest census estimates released last week. Based on its population of 371,245, Pasco is the 100th fastest growing of 3,141 counties in the United States.

The DRIs portend an equally brisk influx of residents for decades to come.

Because of their size, the DRIs usually need two years of governmental scrutiny before land owners get the "development order" that lets them tear up the turf.

Then its takes up to 20 years to complete many of the projects, particularly the residential ones reliant on the fickle health of the housing market.

For example, the DRI that became the Meadow Pointe neighborhood in Wesley Chapel was approved in the 1980s. Today, more than 3,000 homes are in the ground, and another 3,000 are planned.

Bexley Ranch DRI shows construction extending to 2020. So does Long Lake Ranch. Oakley Plaza and Cypress Creek Town Center, being largely commercial, would hit the ground sooner, perhaps in the next few years.

"Pasco will continue to attract development as long as there's lots of agricultural land left," Meyer said.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on one's view of development, land is one thing Pasco has in abundance.

-- 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.

The projects at a glance

Here's a snapshot of the group wending its way toward governmental approval, in chronological order:

-- Long Lake Ranch: 1,100 houses, 800 apartments and 2-million square feet of commercial proposed for 1,100 acres south of SR 54, two miles west of U.S. 41.

-- Sunlake Centre: Immediately north of Long Lake Ranch on SR 54 with plans for 1,340 apartments and town homes, 783,000 square feet of stores and offices on 250 acres.

-- Cypress Creek Town Center: Just east of interchange of Interstate 75 and State Road 56. Land owners seek to build a 1.5-million-square-foot mall, 900 apartments, 700 hotel rooms and 600,000 square feet of other stores, among other buildings.

-- Oakley Plaza: A 90-acre automobile mall proposed for land northwest of I-75 and SR 54. Project includes 300 apartments.

-- Bexley Ranch: This 7,000-acre project in Land O'Lakes was submitted for approval this month. The proposal includes 8,200 homes, three schools, 250,000 square feet of offices and 400,000 square feet of retail.

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