Scarpo project wins approval

Published May 23, 2007

WESLEY CHAPEL - Feuding landowners. Competing developments. A divided neighborhood. A lawsuit against the county.

A controversial proposal for 488 apartments on 30 acres next to Cypress Creek, called the Scarpo project, had all the makings of a courtroom drama when it went before the County Commission on Tuesday.

In the end, Pasco's leaders unanimously supported the project, overturning a 4-4 tie vote from Pasco's Planning Commission last month. A tie amounts to a denial.

In the opening minutes of Tuesday's debate, Scarpo's attorney, Jerry Figurski, laid the groundwork to throw out the Planning Commission's vote.

Quizzing Pasco zoning administrator Debra Zampetti, Figurski staged what sounded like a cross-examination.

Figurski: "Is the project compatible with surrounding properties?"

Zampetti: "Yes."

Figurski: "With the comprehensive plan?"

Zampetti: "Yes."

The exchange, designed to highlight county staff's recommendation in favor of the Scarpo project, ushered nearly an hour of experts and neighbors, who streamed to the podium to have their say.

Some neighbors feared the Scarpo project would clog traffic, and hurt the environment and their quality of life.

But others got up to say they had no problem with the proposal. They said the area is already destined to urbanize. They said precautions written into Scarpo's agreement with the county sufficiently protect Cypress Creek.

Some of the biggest objections came from the King family, Scarpo's neighbors to the south. Hank King has a competing project to raise 548 apartments and townhomes on 42 acres right next door to Scarpo.

Their tussle focused on the southern sliver of Cypress Creek Road.

It's about 150 feet, and is owned by King. The county wants to improve it as part of the conditions they're imposing on the Scarpo project, including improvements to State Road 54 and parts of Cypress Creek Road.

But King won't let the Scarpos on the property to make those improvements.

Because the county has maintained that piece of property for years, officials have threatened to forcibly enter it. In response, King last month filed suit to stop the county.

Can the lawsuit stop or delay the Scarpo project?

"Not directly, but perhaps indirectly, " said chief assistant county attorney Barbara Wilhite, " if the court rules that the county does not have right of way for Cypress Creek Road."

But she said she would need a closer reading of the Scarpo project's development conditions before taking a clearer position.

Officials could have leverage when King's apartment proposal comes up for county review.

The feud played out on the commission floor.

"I have a similar project next door, " King said. "I object to the use of the property that I own."

"The residents closest to me support me on this, " Scarpo said. "I just want to be part of a growth area."

Speaking to a reporter, County Attorney Robert Sumner summed it up pithily: "Mr. King and Mr. Scarpo don't like each other."

One of King's grievances, spelled out by his engineer King Helie, is that the county wants him to pay $6, 068 per home in roadbuilding costs, versus $400 per home for the Scarpos. Helie said the figures are not exact.

County staff members have argued that King should pay more because he's eventually developing a far larger site, totaling more than 300 acres.

In approving the Scarpo project, commissioners agreed with county staff Tuesday.

In other action Tuesday, commissioners voted to send a Land O'Lakes development project back to the staff planners.

Burcaw Development Group wants to build 36 homes on 20 acres on Lake Patience Road. But residents raised flooding concerns and asked commissioners to lower the Burcaw project's density or reduce its footprint.

"We're willing to go back to the drawing board, " said Ty Maxey, Burcaw's project planner.

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