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Rancher says he wants no part of development

William "Ted" Phillips says he specifically asked that his property not be included in plans for an upscale subdivision.

By JAMES THORNER

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 3, 2000


LAND O'LAKES -- The plan appeared last month in Pasco County's growth management office: a proposal for an upscale housing development and equestrian center on thousands of acres of lake country north of State Road 52.

But on Tuesday the proposal began to unravel.

Ranch owner William "Ted" Phillips, whose property was listed as one of the biggest components of the subdivision, said developers never got his permission to commit his property.

The proposal, known as Fort King Ranch, includes 1,164 homes. The most luxurious section of the project, reserved for dozens of pricey homes on 40-acre lots, was supposed to occupy Phillip's 2,000-acre 4G Ranch.

Phillips said a representative of a neighboring landowner, Dr. John Pruitt, approached him about a year ago about reviving plans for Fort King Ranch. Phillips said he explicitly told Pruitt to exclude his ranch from the plans.

"This is not supposed to be included in Fort King Ranch," Phillips said Tuesday. "He's trying to back-door me. I'm not a party to his development."

The development was first approved as a master-planned unit development in the 1980s, when the 5,500-acre Fort King Ranch belonged to Dade City auto parts baron Freeman Polk.

The land, speckled with dozens of lakes and ponds, begins about 3 miles east of U.S. 41 and ends west of Bellamy Brothers Boulevard.

In 1990, after advertising in the Wall Street Journal, Polk, owner of the Standard Auto Parts chain, tried to auction the property to the highest bidder.

Although he rejected the high bid of $7.2-million, a bankruptcy court eventually forced Polk to sell most of the ranch in chunks to satisfy debts in the 1990s.

Phillips was among the buyers. So was Pruitt.

Pruitt, a St. Petersburg surgeon who bought the land last year, denied he was trying to lasso Phillips into his plans.

Pruitt said he was merely trying to preserve the old zoning on his property in case he wanted to sell to developers in the future.

The easiest way to do that, Pruitt said, was to revive Polk's old development plans, which included Phillips' land.

The revived plans, deposited with the county's growth management office in late March, call for 1,164 homes, including 84 rural lots on Phillips' ranch.

Amenities would include an equestrian center, stables, horse trails, a golf course, a 56-acre park and a fire station.

"Nothing is going to be done on his property," Pruitt said of Phillips. "If he wants to keep it as a ranch, he just doesn't sell any lots. But he's approved for homes on 40 acres."

Much of the former Fort King Ranch property is targeted for acquisition by the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

But Phillips has no plans to sell to anyone.

"I have no development plans for my property," he said.

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