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Oakstead lawsuit is settled

Citizens for Sanity gets few concessions as it drops its suit, allowing Oakstead development to proceed.

By JAMES THORNER

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 6, 2000


LAND O'LAKES -- Citizens for Sanity has dropped its lawsuit against Tampa developer Don Buck, clearing the way for construction of the 1,200-home Oakstead project in Land O'Lakes.

In an out-of-court settlement signed Friday, Citizens for Sanity swore off future challenges to Oakstead in return for promises from developers to establish a continuous wildlife corridor across the length of the subdivision.

Protesters hardly got all they wanted.

During the eight-month fight over the development, capped by the anti-Oakstead lawsuit filed in December, Citizens for Sanity spokesman Clay Colson vowed to stop the project or at least to reduce the number of homes.

The first inkling that those goals may have been too ambitious came last month.

On April 17, Circuit Judge Stanley Mills rejected a part of the lawsuit designed to force the county to pass wildlife-protection regulations.

Another hearing before Mills was scheduled for Monday and protesters suspected the judge might continue to rule against them.

Asked Friday what he thought of the settlement, Citizens for Sanity attorney Thomas Reese said, "It's a settlement."

But Reese added a positive note, saying the lawsuit was just one prong of a larger attack on what protesters think is overdevelopment in central Pasco.

Other targets include the Ridge Road Extension, a road construction project scheduled to begin this year, and Connerton, a 15,000-home development proposed for Land O'Lakes.

"I'm looking at the big picture," Reese said. "Oakstead is just a small part of a bigger skirmish."

David Smolker, attorney for Buck's Devco Development Co., didn't gloat over a settlement that gave developers pretty much everything they wanted.

"It's not about winning and losing," Smolker said. "It's about trying to develop a piece of property."

Smolker said the settlement was preferable to continuing the court battle over a project already several months delayed.

"Any time you can resolve risk of the unknown and eliminate delays and avoid appeals and not have it be an unreasonable burden, it's prudent to do that," he said.

Citizens for Sanity filed the lawsuit complaining that Oakstead would displace wildlife, deplete groundwater and encourage urban sprawl.

By settling, developers agreed to address one of those complaints by establishing a wildlife corridor along the eastern part of the 847-acre site west of U.S. 41.

Maps show the corridor running north from State Road 54 to Lake Patience Road. Smolker said the corridor, varying in width from 25 feet to 100 feet, would not only protect wildlife but buffer neighbors from Oakstead.

Where the corridor bumps against future streets, Devco agreed to install underground culverts as wildlife crossings. The culverts would be at least 36 inches wide and 30 inches high, roomy enough for "small terrestrial animals."

Buck also agreed to help lobby the state Department of Transportation to install an 8-foot-high wildlife crossing south of Oakstead under SR 54.

Smolker said the corridors would "definitely increase" the cost of development, but he didn't say by how much.

Yet there's no guarantee the wildlife corridor will be effective, said Randy Kautz, an administrator with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Animals that tend to use suburban corridors include foxes, squirrels, armadillos and raccoons, Kautz said. Larger animals, including wildcats, generally abandon terrain no longer hospitable to them.

"I just think you're not going to get deer there or bobcats there," Kautz said. "You're basically developing out the larger mammals."

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