Corps okays mall in Pasco

Cypress Creek Town Center won clearance to begin construction.

Published May 17, 2007

WESLEY CHAPEL -- The planned Cypress Creek Town Center, which would be one of the largest malls in the Tampa Bay area, has secured the final permit it needs to start construction.

The green light from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers comes after nearly three years of negotiations and legal scuffles over the 500-acre project's environmental risks.

The permit, granted late Tuesday, allows the paving of 56 acres of wetlands near the headwaters of the Hillsborough River, a major source of drinking water for Hillsborough County. Environmental activists say runoff from the megamall will taint Cypress Creek, a tributary of the Hillsborough River.

They had vowed to sue if the corps awarded a permit. Those reached Wednesday said they would need further consultations before launching a legal battle.

The Richard E. Jacobs Group, the Cleveland-based company developing the $200-million mall at Interstate 75 and State Road 56, plans to start moving construction equipment this week and dirt next week, spokesman Bill Fullington said.

"There are no more hurdles now," he said. "Everything's full speed ahead."

The plan is to open by fall 2008, and 60 percent of the mall has been leased and committed, he said. The 500-acre development also will be home to hundreds of apartments and hotel rooms.

But, apart from an AMC Theatres 18-screen multiplex, Fullington said confidentiality agreements bar him from naming mall tenants.

Brokers' promotional brochures, handed out at recent shopping center conventions, suggest that Costco and Linens-N-Things could also anchor the mall. In November, plans submitted to Pasco County placed Kohl's department store at the site.

Mall near Tyrone's size

At about 1.3-million square feet, the shopping center would be slightly smaller than the largest Tampa Bay area mall, Tyrone Square in St. Petersburg.

Army Corps officials said the permit came with conditions.

"The corps is going to require very stringent water quality tests," said the corps' Tracy Hurst. "For five years after they start construction, we'll test multiple times a year, tied to rainfall, to make sure rainfall is properly filtered before it reaches the creek."

Hurst said the monitoring plan is a condition over and above state requirements. The permit was jointly reviewed by the state Department of Environmental Protection, Pasco County, the Southwest Florida Water Management District and Tampa Bay Water.

To manage the runoff, the corps also wants the Jacobs Group to plant trees and shrubs in all areas within 300 feet of Cypress Creek, including the mall's stormwater retention ponds, Hurst said.

The corps had initially asked why the developer needed 6,468 parking spaces -- more than any other Tampa Bay area mall. The lots are a chief concern for those worried about tainted runoff.

But the corps became convinced that the mall's dependence on an undisclosed number of restaurants justified the parking spaces. "Parking spaces for restaurants are higher than any other use," Hurst said.

Jacobs had earlier committed to putting in place special filtration buffers in parking areas, using porous pavement and building a 2,000-space multistory parking garage.

News of Tuesday's permit took many environmentalists by surprise.

While all eyes are now shifting to a possible court battle, those interviewed Wednesday said they would wait to examine the corps permit in detail.

"That's a real shock," said Dan Rametta, a Land O'Lakes environmentalist. "We have to wait and see now. It's going to be litigated, of course."

Rametta questioned why the corps issued its permit even while he and others were feeding public comments into the process.

Hurst said the corps had an official 30-day window for public comment in October 2005, but accepted feedback "all the way up" to the point the permit was issued.

Corps: no new data

Even so, she said, the corps cannot stop the decisionmaking unless significant new evidence emerges. In this case, corps officials felt no new information was coming to light after three years of talks.

If anyone were to sue, the suit would have to target the basis for the Army corps decision to issue the permit. Corps officials say there's generally a 60-day window to challenge a permit, unless a judge agrees to extend it.

The developer has weathered legal action before. Last September, it convinced another set of opponents to drop a lawsuit challenging Swiftmud's permit.

The developer is taking the latest threats in stride.

"It's a hypothetical," Fullington said. "People can sue if they want to."

Denise Layne, Tampa's representative of the Sierra Club, said she will discuss further steps with the club's national headquarters in San Francisco.

"I have to go back and talk to the board," she said. "It might take two to three weeks."

Chuin-Wei Yap can be reached at cyap@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4613.

FAST FACTS: Cypress Creek Town Center
Area: About 1.3-million square feet
Planned opening: Fall 2008
Announced anchor: AMC Theatres 18-screen multiplex*
- 824,291 square feet of retail stores*
- 43,821 square feet of restaurants*
- 540,000 square feet of offices**
- Two hotels with 350 rooms each **
- 860 homes **
* First phase; ** Later phases