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Wiregrass tiff over, sort of
Pasco and the state agree on road work, but fuming Hillsborough says the dispute is far from settled.
By CHUIN-WEI YAP, Times Staff Writer
Published October 10, 2007
DADE CITY - Pasco commissioners on Tuesday voted to approve a legal settlement with the state Department of Community Affairs that soothes the agency's concerns over road improvements around the 5,000-acre Wiregrass Ranch development.
Or did they?
State officials and the Hillsborough County Attorney's office can't seem to agree on who has the final word on the squabble.
Hillsborough says Gov. Charlie Crist and the Cabinet - and not the DCA - has to decide. The DCA says that Hillsborough doesn't even have a case if the department doesn't present it to the Cabinet.
Hillsborough wants Pasco and Wiregrass developers to pay $28-million to help widen Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. Hillsborough appealed to the DCA to get it done.
But state and Pasco officials said Tuesday's decision by the Pasco commission settles the DCA's concerns about Wiregrass. All that's left now is for the DCA to verify that the approved settlement is the same as what was earlier agreed upon with Pasco officials.
"We'll dismiss our petition within five days, as long as the amendments are consistent with the agreement," said Jon Peck, the DCA spokesman.
Once DCA's concerns are dismissed, Peck said, the matter won't even go before the Cabinet.
The department had earlier objected to Pasco approving Wiregrass without sorting out road work for the project's second and third development phases. Tuesday's agreement fixed those concerns - without addressing the Bruce B. Downs issue.
But state officials say the settlement means Hillsborough's demands go away, too.
"If we get to the point that we are able to dismiss the DCA appeal, the Hillsborough petition to intervene becomes moot," Peck said.
The Hillsborough County Attorney's Office disagrees.
"It hasn't been decided by the Florida Land and Water Adjudicatory Commission," said Nancy Takemori, a Hillsborough assistant county attorney.
That's the agency the Cabinet becomes when it has to resolve such appeals.
Takemori said the DCA must apply to the adjudicatory commission to get its appeal dismissed. In other words, she said, Hillsborough's demands don't disappear just because the DCA dismisses its own case.
Hillsborough officials are irate that the department has not taken up the cudgel on the Bruce B. Downs issue.
"It's really slamming the door in Hillsborough County's face," she said. "Again."
Peck said Hillsborough may have filed to "intervene" - that's legalese for join - in the DCA's appeal, but the appeal came from the DCA.
"If and when the appeal goes away, there won't be a case to intervene in," Peck said.
What does the Cabinet say?
By press time Tuesday, nothing.
The governor's office didn't respond to a call from the Pasco Times.
The adjudicatory commission meets once every two weeks. The Wiregrass issue isn't on Tuesday's agenda, Takemori said. The agenda for the Oct. 30 meeting hasn't been published yet.