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Builder plans to pay for preserve

The developer of the Grand Hamptons is offering to pay more than $673,000 in order to comply with a habitat ordinance.

By MICHAEL SANDLER

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 28, 2000


TAMPA -- A Pennsylvania developer will offer to pay more than $673,000 to save endangered habitats outside its property so it can proceed with building more than 1,500 homes on land that includes a protected wildlife preserve in New Tampa.

Joel Tew, a Clearwater attorney representing Tampa Realty Associates Inc., said his client plans to meet Tampa's Upland Habitat Protection ordinance by employing "off-site mitigation."

If approved, it would allow construction of Grand Hampton, a planned community that calls for 829 single-family homes and 750 apartments, on 648 acres just south of Pasco County. The property was annexed by the city in November 1998.

The Sierra Club, a non-profit environmental protection group, said it does not support off-site mitigation and intends to fight the proposal, which was originally proposed by city officials.

"I can assure you this was not the developer's first choice," said assistant city attorney Andrea Zelman. "We can't look at development versus no development. We have to look at it as how can we best protect upland habitats and still allow development. The only way to allow development and still protect upland habitat was to allow the mitigation off-site."

Tampa Realty has requested a zoning change to begin the project just south of the Hillsborough-Pasco county line between Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and Interstate 75. The property is currently zoned for agricultural use.

Before it can be approved, the developer must set aside 106.4 acres for upland habitat to meet the requirements of a 1999 ordinance. Tampa recommended the off-site mitigation after it rejected the developer's initial proposal to protect 97.4 acres of upland habitation site and 9 acres off site, calling it fragmented.

Zelman said Tampa Realty will pay $673,299.20, or $6,328 per acre on 106.4 acres, to protect land elsewhere.

Tew said the developer plans to go before the city's zoning committee on July 13 and request the change. Tampa Reality listed a Huntington Valley, Pa., address on its change of zoning request, the same location as Toll Brothers Inc., a nationwide home builder.

"We initially proposed to do on-site mitigation to the maximum we felt we could," said Tew. "The city staff felt it would be better to do off-site mitigation, to pay for off site mitigation, so the city could do what it saw fit. That's fully resolved."

The property includes upland preserves and wetlands contiguous to the Cypress Creek Preserve, a watershed that empties into the Hillsborough River, the main source of the city's drinking water.

Beth Connor, a national representative for the Sierra Club, said building entirely on that area risks endangering the watershed.

"The whole point of mitigation should be preserving as much habitat on the site as possible," Connor said. "This is a terrible precedent, that you can alter radically one ecosystem and think you can buy another, and that replaces it. This is a watershed that feeds our drinking water. It is not responsible to allow this kind of development to happen. It's unfortunate that the city allowed this land to be annexed."

- Michael Sandler can be reached at (813) 226-3472 or sandler@sptimes.com.

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