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Plan for a new Sweetbay in Odessa irks neighbor
A farmer thinks that Swiftmud is playing matchmaker with developer and wetlands.
By CHUIN-WEI YAP
Published July 26, 2007
ODESSA - Sweetbay Supermarket is coming to Odessa, but its closest neighbor isn't celebrating.
Octavio Blanco has a 100-acre farm on State Road 54, just east of the Suncoast Parkway, a lonely outpost slowly besieged by the onset of development.
Next door to his property, where his family has lived for 50 years, the Paradise Development Group wants to put a Sweetbay-anchored mall on 37 acres it bought in 2003 for $4.25-million.
"It is Sweetbay's intention to build a new store there," said Valerie Panou, a spokeswoman for the supermarket chain.
The mall, tentatively called Shoppes of Suncoast in Paradise broker brochures, also hopes to have three restaurants, two banks, a gas station and two other retail stores. None are named, apart from the proposed 50,000-square-foot Sweetbay.
The development is still jumping through the permitting hoops. Paradise brochures say they hope to open the mall in 2008.
Here's what irks Blanco.
When he went scouring through public records on the neighboring property, he found that Paradise's representative had written to thank the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
The district, also called Swiftmud, had apparently suggested a 66-acre tract in Hernando County that Paradise could use to compensate for potential damage to wetlands on the Suncoast Commercial property, Blanco said.
It is unclear how large the wetlands are on the Paradise property, but county maps indicate they take about a fifth of the 37 acres.
Blanco is sensitive about his swamp.
He believes development has drained it. He has warned of droughts. He has twice sued homebuilder Standard Pacific because they planned to dig a large pit next to his property.
Even with the recent rain, his water level is still 5 feet below the ground, he said.
"It's never been that low in 50 years," he said.
But never mind the swamp.
This time, he's also fed up with what he feels is Swiftmud's unnecessary matchmaking of developer and wetlands.
"You have somebody that has the power to grant permits, and for them to come in and say, 'I can make this easy for all of you,' " is akin to a referee tilting the field in favor of one team, he said.
The 66 acres on Zebrafinch Avenue in northwestern Hernando belong to Tod Marr.
Paradise, a 19-year-old real estate firm that specializes in grocery-anchored projects, did not reply to a call for comment.
But Swiftmud disagreed with Blanco.
"We keep a list, and if somebody asks for mitigation ideas, we will provide suggestions," said Robyn Hanke, the agency's spokeswoman. "It's standard practice."
Marr's properties, totaling 370 acres, have been used for other mitigation purposes, Hanke said. Swiftmud owns adjoining tracts.
In suggesting this sort of mitigation, Swiftmud wants the swaps to be for properties within the same drainage basin, which means an area drained by the same river system.
In this case, both the Paradise property and the Marr tract are in the same upper coastal drainage basin, Hanke said.