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Plans revealed for former mine

Developers envision 2,400 homes, a golf course and a hotel and convention center at the former Sun West Mine.

By CHUIN-WEI YAP
Published November 18, 2006


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HUDSON - For months, there were only whispers that a megadevelopment was on the way to the former Sun West Mine.

Now, the master plan for the proposal has surfaced in the offices of environmental regulators.

Sunwest Harbor Towne would raise 2,400 homes on 2,263 acres on the coast just west of Old Dixie Highway.

The conceptual plan shows a 32-acre marina village and resort, a 167-acre golf course, an 8-acre hotel and convention center, 33 acres of stores and nearly 1,500 acres of green preserve, wrapped around a swatch of large lakes.

The details of the proposal are coming to light in a time of residential market blues, but the developer, Sun West Acquisition Corp., says it's planning ahead.

"It takes a long time to get through the permitting process," said spokeswoman Honey Rand. "We have a lot of groups to talk to."

But it already looks like Harbor Towne has a date with controversy.

Rumors have floated for months that the development application was imminent, accompanied by a drumbeat of environmental concerns, including possible threats to marine wildlife, bear habitats, land contamination and hurricane evacuation.

This may explain why the developers headed first for discussions with state and federal environmental regulators. Typically, developers apply to county and regional planners for approval before seeking environmental permits.

The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, which must clear such large-scale developments, has yet to see an application or talk to the developer, said head planner John Meyer. County staff say they have had discussions with Sun West, but received no formal application yet.

Instead, Sun West is first laying the groundwork with environmental regulators. It filed its master plan with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers two weeks ago. Talks are in such early stages that the regulator has not yet gone on the site to verify wetland lines.

"I've never seen a project come to us this early," said Tracy Hurst, the Corps official handling the project.

The developer has also approached the Southwest Florida Water Management District, said spokesman Michael Molligan.

Robert Carpenter, a former commander of the Corps, was hired in July as president of Grubbs Emergency Services LLC of Brooksville, a company which reportedly owns Sun West Acquisition.

The emphasis on getting the environmental ducks in a row also speaks to an expected battle with conservationists.

Sun West is a former limestone mine that was the subject of a 2003 bankruptcy tussle. Pasco County was drawn into the fight over fuzzy ownership issues. In May, the county agreed to give up its rights to 915 acres in exchange for 21 acres and $3-million, a deal that drew fire from environmentalists.

Matters grew worse when high levels of arsenic were later found on the 21 acres. A deal is being worked out to clean that tract and offer the county another one. Rand said the affected area is 60 square feet, and another round of tests is under way. Sun West is prepared to provide more clean-up if necessary, she said.

Now, environmentalists are warning that the proposed development would threaten marine wildlife in Fillman's Bayou, just west of the site.

They also say the development would cut off a wildlife corridor that runs from Citrus County to Hudson; wipe out a natural habitat for Florida black bears; strain hurricane evacuation; and worsen flooding.

"It's still in a discussion phase," Rand said, pointing to wildlife corridors in the site plans. "It's all about discussion right now."

If Harbor Towne surmounts these complaints and comes to fruition, it will mark a comeback for John "Gary" Grubbs, the namesake of Grubbs Emergency Services.

Grubbs profited from hurricane cleanups but went bankrupt in 2003 under an onslaught of debt, overexpansion and a slowing economy.

Rand said Grubbs now retains only an advisory role at Grubbs Emergency Services, though state records show he is president of Sun West Acquisition.

Chuin-Wei Yap covers growth and development. He can be reached at 813909-4613 or cyap@sptimes.com.

[Last modified November 17, 2006, 23:05:06]


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