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Bella Verde backers scale plans down

SAN ANTONIO — Bella Verde, a proposed housing development that has been on life support for years, received another reprieve from county officials last week.

The county had given lead developer New Cities Land Co. several deadlines to come up with $4 million for road improvements. The latest was April 11, when county commissioners were set to decide whether to hold the developers in default and possibly pull the plug.

But the developer, which emerged from bankruptcy protection in November, now says it has a buyer, Pasadera Equity Investors LLC. Records show the California-based company, created almost a year ago, lists as its registered agent Thomas S. deRegt, a principal in Bella Verde's original owner, New Cities. A bankruptcy judge approved the $18 million sale in November and declared the property is free and clear of any outstanding debt. The sale is set to close by mid April.

The new company wants to scale down the plan, which is now approved for 6,700 homes, 183,000 square feet of commercial space, 52,000 square feet of office space and golf courses totaling 36 holes. However, in 2008 it struck a deal with the county, agreed to reduce the number of homes to 4,373 and got its build-out date extended from 2010 to 2017.

"It is the proposal of the contract purchaser to reformulate the concept for Cannon Ranch. Rather than a resort community with a golf course, Mr. deRegt proposes a more compact, residential community with a village center focusing on the natural features of the site," the county's Growth Management Administrator, Richard Gehring, said in a memo to the county's Development Review Committee, which approved the agreement last week for the 1,965 proposed development.

The community, which was first advertised to open in 2005, was to have the golf courses, a theater, a spa, swimming pools, and tennis and volleyball courts.

The most recent site plans submitted to the county show a village center with a school and walking trails, but not the resort community originally envisioned.

The new scenario prompted developers to ask that the road improvement fund deadline be put off until March 2013.

It has been a tough several years for Bella Verde, which is proposed for the Cannon Ranch development, first approved in 1989.

The developers were sued in 2009 and sought bankruptcy protection in February 2010. Bank of America said it was owed $17.5 million, the community development district demanded $10.6 million and the IRS asked for $1.5 million. Other creditors included Pasco County and Wilson Miller Inc.

The developer also faced a foreclosure lawsuit filed in May by Comerica Bank.

During the housing boom, developers had big plans for the site, which is on State Road 52, just east of Interstate 75. An outlet mall was once set to be built nearby,

But Simon Property, which also owns Premium Outlets Ellenton, is talking about moving its Pasco project 15 miles south to the site of Cypress Creek Town Center in Wesley Chapel, a shopping center project halted four years ago by environmental disputes and a lack of tenants.

The principals won't confirm anything. But Simon did let its contract for the earlier site at Interstate 75 and SR 52 expire and this month resumed advertising in the outlet industry trade magazine for tenants for a Tampa project.

Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report, which also includes information from Times files.

Bella Verde backers scale plans down 02/24/12 [Last modified: Friday, February 24, 2012 8:56pm]
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