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Green belt through Connerton important to countywide plan

A week after opponents attacked the planned city, the county's Development Review Committee discusses protecting wildlife.

By JAMES THORNER

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 16, 2000


LAND O'LAKES -- Connerton New Town development is expected to become a vital link in a cross-county wildlife corridor stretching from Land O'Lakes to Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

The revelation that Pasco County wants to preserve an unbroken green belt for deer, bear, wildcats and other animals came at a Thursday meeting of the Development Review Committee.

The committee, which consists of the county's top administrators, met in a special session to consider the development order Connerton needs to move forward.

As proposed, Connerton, with 15,177 homes, three golf course, stores, several schools and a hospital, would be a new city in the heart of Pasco between U.S. 41 and Ehren Cutoff. Construction of the development's nine "villages" is scheduled to last up to 30 years.

Pasco attorney Robert Sumner said he wants to ensure animals are protected during the development of what is now 8,000 acres of pasture, wetland and forest.

The county's proposed wildlife preservation ordinance, drafted by a committee of county officials and citizen volunteers, will include a clause for the creation of the wildlife corridor, Sumner said.

As proposed, the corridor would start at the Cypress Creek Wellfield in Land O'Lakes and cross the Connerton Property on its way to the Cross Bar Wellfield north of State Road 52.

From there, the corridor would hook to the southwest, eventually reaching thousands of acres on the Serenova and Starkey Wellfield property south of State Road 52.

The greenbelt would continue south under State Road 54, perhaps extending all the way to Brooker Creek Preserve in north Pinellas County. During discussions about Connerton Thursday, Sumner insisted the corridor be enshrined in Connerton's development order, the document listing developers' obligations to the county.

"This area is an integral part of the system," Sumner told landowner Doug Conner and his engineer, planner and attorney.

Plans for Connerton already called for massive wildlife preserves taking in 3,600 acres of wetlands on the property. Still to be finalized is where the corridor will enter and exit the Conner land.

The Connerton discussions, which the committee didn't complete and agreed to continue on July 6, also included talk about roads to serve Connerton.

The committee is reviewing the proposal in preparation for consideration by county commissioners, scheduled for July 18. Connerton officials told the committee they designed their plans expecting the extension of two roads that currently end far short of the Conner property: Ridge Road and Collier Parkway.

The extension of Ridge Road east to Connerton would provide the development access to the Suncoast Parkway, the three-county toll road scheduled to open in January.

But Sumner and county administrator John Gallagher expressed concern about traffic congestion should Ridge Road extension not be built during the first phase of Connerton, which will consist of 3,800 homes.

"What happens if U.S. 41 comes over capacity? Do you just keep on building?" Gallagher said.

Bill Oliver, a Connerton engineer, said he is still banking on Ridge Road, construction of which is being challenged by environmental groups.

"We hope and expect . . . that traffic shifts from U.S. 41 to the Suncoast Parkway," he said.

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