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'Scarpo site' keeps up Pasco's explosive growth

A Texas developer proposes 500 apartments on 30 acres near Cypress Creek Town Center.

By CHUIN-WEI YAP
Published February 6, 2007


WESLEY CHAPEL - Gerald Ashton has lived on Bald Cypress Lane for 25 years, on 6 acres of a wooded sanctuary a short stroll from Cypress Creek.

He knew State Road 54 when it was just two lanes. He remembers County Line Road when it was nothing but dirt.

But now Ashton is about to get neighbors - a lot of neighbors.

Greystar GP, a Texas developer, wants to build 500 apartments on 30 acres right next to Cypress Creek.

The land, between Bald Cypress and Sandhill lanes, belongs to James and Sylvia Scarpo, Carlyle and Judith Wolding, and Randall and Diane Sherman.

The "Scarpo site," as it is tentatively named in county records, is headed for a rezoning hearing Thursday in Dade City with the Development Review Committee. If it passes muster, the proposal is scheduled for a hearing with the Planning Commission on March 14 and the County Commission in April.

At nearly 17 homes per acre, the Scarpo site is a tight fit in an area that still has the feel of a rural getaway. It is linked to the outside world only by the bedraggled, two-lane Cypress Creek Road.

Yet, in its application, the developer said it is not proposing any "additional arterial roads."

Not so fast, Pasco zoning administrator Debra Zampetti said.

Roads will be an issue, she said.

"There are going to be a lot of things coming out of this in terms of conditions that we want to put on them," Zampetti said.

Cypress Creek Road is a substandard street that needs to be brought up to county standards if the Scarpo site is to be permitted, she said.

The density of the proposal is less of an issue. The comprehensive plan was recently amended to allow for 24 homes an acre there, Zampetti said.

The coming traffic crunch gives a hint of the future.

East of the Scarpo site is the proposed 500-acre Cypress Creek Town Center. To the south is a 322-acre mixed-use proposal, King Ranch, which county planners said is about to be submitted as a development application.

Environmentalists opposed Cypress Creek Town Center because of its threat to Cypress Creek, which feeds Hillsborough County's drinking water, and 56 acres of sensitive wetlands.

Robert and Shirley Jones, who have lived for 22 years at the top of Cypress Creek Road, last month dropped a lawsuit that they brought against the town center's developer.

Now, they have the Scarpo site. Little wonder why they seem resigned.

"The traffic on that road is going to be really something," Robert Jones said, shaking his head with a rueful laugh. "This is progress, yes, but you also have got to be careful with things like proper drainage."

The Joneses' basement flooded two years ago, just the latest episode to remind them that they live in a sensitive floodplain.

Aware of its stake in preventing pollution, the Hillsborough County Water Resource Team is keeping its eye on the Scarpo project.

"In the interest of the Hillsborough River and its tributaries ... this will be one project that has potential interest to the county," said Bart Weiss, the team's manager. "On several levels, it will be reviewed."

Pasco planners have already rapped the developer's knuckles on one count.

In its application, the developer claimed that wetlands on its site were Class 3, a county category that designates less sensitive wetlands.

In an internal memo, Don Robinson, a county biologist, said the project's proximity to Cypress Creek means the category should be shown as Class 1, the most sensitive and closely regulated type of wetlands.

The developer's attorney, Gerald Figurski, did not reply to a call for comment Monday.

Either way, the Southwest Florida Water Management District will get involved.

"Off the top of my head, I can't imagine that something that big would not have to be reviewed for stormwater management," said Michael Molligan, Swiftmud's spokesman.

But by the time their 500 new neighbors arrive, those like the Joneses and the Ashtons may no longer want to be around.

Ashton welcomes the onslaught of development, he said, but he also knows it spells the end of a way of life.

"I can't imagine we'd be here another 20 years," he said.

Chuin-Wei Yap covers growth and development in Pasco County. He can be reached at (813) 909-4613 or cyap@sptimes.com.