tampabay.com

Lennar will fund road to schools

By CHUIN-WEI YAP
Published May 26, 2007


LAND O'LAKES - A week after revelations that it had pulled out of a collaborative effort to construct Sunlake Boulevard, Lennar Corp. has offered to cover the cost of building a temporary road for two Pasco schools stranded by the impasse.

In a statement originally meant as an op-ed piece, the builder said Friday it is working with other developers on a permanent solution to the proposed boulevard.

Sunlake High School and Rushe Middle School are opening in August. School district officials originally counted on a group of developers, including Lennar, Newland Communities and Amprop Development, to start construction on Sunlake Boulevard, just south of Lennar's Concord Station development on State Road 54.

Officials from the district, Newland and Amprop told the Pasco Times last week that Lennar had pulled out from a collaborative effort to build the road.

Newland and Amprop have offered to help the school district build Sunlake Boulevard without Lennar. But Newland balked at Lennar demands that would have Newland carry the whole cost and also work on Concord Station's stormwater drainage as part of the road building.

This left school officials with the prospect of having to build a $275, 000, 725-foot-long temporary road for the two schools.

On Friday, Lennar said it would cover the cost of this temporary road, but asked the other developers to pony up, too.

"We are confident that the other developers will join us in funding the proposed temporary access road, " Ken Wagner, Lennar's land development vice president, said in the statement. "But if they don't, to support the community, Lennar will take care of the cost of construction."

"We understand that a public statement of this nature is not the best negotiating position to get other companies to help fund this project, " he wrote. "But we believe that companies doing business in this area should do what is right and what is fair for the community."

School officials Friday welcomed the offer.

"Our goal is to get a road for the children on opening day, " said Ray Gadd, the school's chief land buyer. "We certainly appreciate the fact that they have a change of heart. It's a little late in the game, but we're confident we can get this road done."

In his statement, Wagner pointed to "mischaracterizations" in the May 20 Pasco Times story on the impasse.

He said "Lennar does not have a present obligation to construct any portion of Sunlake Boulevard. Lennar's obligations arise in the future and subsequent to the obligations of other companies."

The story stated that Lennar's obligations on Sunlake Boulevard kick in once they reach 900 homes in Concord Station. Lennar has about two-thirds that number so far.

Newland and Amprop officials also do not have current obligations to deliver Sunlake Boulevard yet, but were willing to bring forward their schedules to meet the schools' needs.

Lennar had already secured the design and permitting for the road, and one of its officials committed to completing the road before the schools open. Wagner reportedly said that official did not have the authority to make such a commitment, and the official resigned from Lennar early this year.

On Friday, Wagner said Lennar has met its obligation to turn over ownership of portions of Sunlake Boulevard in a timely manner.

Newland told the Pasco Times last week that it still needs Lennar to dedicate a northern piece of Sunlake Boulevard to the county, since the boulevard would be useless for Newland if it does not reach Newland's proposed Bexley Ranch development, north of Concord Station.

Wagner said the May 20 article referred to an agreement between the School Board and land seller E&D Land II, that set out the terms of the schools' access.

"Lennar has no legal relationship with E&D Land II, LLC and is not a party to that agreement, " Wagner said.

The May 20 article quoted district officials disputing this assertion. On Friday, Gadd said he still did not accept Wagner's statement.

"That's for our attorneys to find out, " Gadd said.

Before publishing its May 20 article, two Pasco Times reporters had unsuccessfully sought interviews with Wagner over a period of three days. On Friday, Wagner declined an interview with the Pasco Times, through its public relations manager, Tucker Hall.

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