ODESSA — The owners of South Branch Ranch on State Road 54 are planning to swap cows for commerce.
Currently, there are approximately 65 head of cattle on the land at the northwest corner of the Suncoast Parkway and SR 54. For a decade, Pasco County planners and industrial recruiters envisioned the 715 acres as a potential home to job-centric business developments, and the county designated the site as an employment center on its land-use plan.
But last week, county commissioners acknowledged that the land designation may have been too ambitious, in part because it also carried a requirement for so-called workforce housing that would have put 4,422 apartments on the land, too.
"That's too many. I don't think it's good land planning,'' said attorney Clarke Hobby, representing home builder D.R. Horton. "When you get into those kind of numbers, you start talking about suitcase city'' around the University of South Florida in Tampa.
So, commissioners unanimously blessed a change in the county comprehensive land-use plan that will allow the property to be used for single-family homes, townhomes and apartments, 15 acres holding at least 800,000 square feet of offices or light industrial uses, a walkable commercial retail district of up to 440,000 square feet and 400 hotel rooms.
The land is currently owned by the Behnke family, and the ranch is named for South Branch Creek, said Rick Behnke of San Antonio. His late father, Kurt, used to operate the ranch while his late uncle, Carl, owned the adjoining Circle BB Ranch, which is now being developed as Asturia.
South Branch Ranch Inc. has a contract to sell the property to BRS Industries of Palm Harbor, which will develop 80 acres of commercial land and up to 500 apartments. D.R. Horton will develop the northern portion of the property into 900 single-family homes and up to 300 townhomes. The combined project also is required to build a 1.5-mile road from SR 54 northward to connect to the future extension of Tower Road.
Dave Pierce of BRS Industries said his company anticipated the site could potentially house a corporate headquarters, a hotel and office convention center, an upscale hotel and other hospitality businesses because of its proximity to the Suncoast Parkway and easy access to Tampa International Airport.
"We've had a tremendous amount of interest from retailers, movie theaters and higher-end restaurants,'' Pierce said.
Highway accessibility is the same reason the county initially wanted the land reserved nearly exclusively for employment centers. Last week, Commissioner Jack Mariano was reluctant to allow the residential development.
"We do need more of creating jobs. One of those properties, once it's gone, it's gone,'' Mariano said, pointing to former industrial land along Hays Road in Shady Hills that now is a residential neighborhood.
Mariano eventually acquiesced, however, after BRS attorney Barbara Wilhite pointed out that the county already has entitled 4.8 million square feet of office space within seven developments along the State Road 54-56 corridor.
A key difference, Wilhite said, is that the BRS land can only be developed as a corporate campus, light industry or for a targeted business recruited by the county. It cannot be used for a hospital, medical offices or office condominiums.
The property adjoins a separate 29-acre proposed commercial development, also referred to as South Branch, that is owned by N.C.J. Investment Co. of Tampa. The two projects are not affiliated. Pierce, of BRS Industries, said his company's project and the D.R. Horton development will be rechristened and marketed under a different name.
State approval of the comprehensive land-use plan change and final authorization by the County Commission still are required before the project can begin. Pierce said the development could break ground in June or July.