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Developer confirms residential project

Jacksonville's LandMar Group says it will build homes on the hilly 1,600-acre parcel east of U.S. 41.

By DAN DeWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 6, 2001


BROOKSVILLE -- A Jacksonville developer confirmed what has been widely speculated -- that the large development his company is planning in Hernando County will be built just east of U.S. 41 and north of Powell Road.

Edward Burr, president and chief executive officer of LandMar Group, said his company is interested in the property partly because of the recent completion of the Suncoast Parkway, which made Hernando County more accessible to Tampa.

Mostly, though, Burr said he saw opportunity in the quality of the land -- a hilly, 1,600-acre parcel now mostly covered with pasture and pine woods. It extends from Powell to the southern end of Hope Hill Road, with most of it lying west of the CSX Transportation Corp. railroad tracks.

"This is a unique, beautiful piece of property that may be the prettiest non-waterfront land I've seen in the state of Florida," Burr said.

That is one reason some nearby residents do not favor developing the land. All but a small portion is designated as rural in the county's comprehensive plan.

"Hernando County is growing by leaps and bounds, and our resources are getting less and less," said John Hardin, 73, who lives near Powell and Emerson roads.

"I left Pinellas County years ago because it was getting too overcrowded. If it gets any worse, I'm going to have to move to Citrus."

Burr said his company, a subsidy of Duke Energy, is at least several months from developing the property. He is assembling a team of designers who will begin making some basic decisions about the project, including whether it will offer a golf course and the size and price range of the houses.

A lawyer affiliated withe project earlier said it would contain 3,000 units, but Burr said the company has not determined the development's density.

LandMar, which was founded in 1987, typically builds houses ranging from $150,000 and $450,000, and anchors them with golf courses. The company's projects include Grand Haven, a 1,600-unit development in Flagler County that features a golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus.

But Burr said the company still must study the demographics of Hernando to determine whether a demand exists for such homes.

"We will develop to what the market wants," Burr said.

Another reason the development will not be built immediately: it faces a long permitting process, said Paul Wieczorek, the county's concurrency coordinator. Unless the state rules for such developments change -- something the Legislature is currently considering -- Landmar will need approval for an amendment to the comprehensive plan both at the state and county levels.

It also will have to go through a time-consuming approval process for projects large enough be considered "developments of regional impact." At each step, the public will be allowed to voice objections.

Because LandMar has not yet submitted plans to the county, Wieczorek said, he can comment only in general terms about its prospects for ultimately receiving approval. Working against it: the state recently determined that Hernando County already had too much land designated for residential development.

On the other hand, Wieczorek said, the improvement to U.S. 41 means nearby roads are probably adequate to serve the project. Also, he said, the city of Brooksville could probably provide sewer service with the sewage treatment plant it completed about a year ago.

"Have we gotten to the point where this is an appropriate area (for a large development)? Well, that will be evaluated in the comp plan process," he said.

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