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Berry Hill Estates developer withdraws proposal

DADE CITY — Pasco County commissioners didn't have to vote Tuesday on whether to allow a controversial subdivision north of Dade City.

After hearing negative comments from commissioners about a new housing design, property owner Tracy Harris and his planner withdrew their request and walked out of the meeting as opponents cheered.

They declined reporters' repeated requests for comment.

"I think this is junk," Commissioner Michael Cox said after looking at the site plan.

"What I see up there today is more of a suburban layout than a conservation subdivision layout," Commissioner Ted Schrader said.

Berry Hill Estates, the 266-home subdivision proposed for 403 hilly acres across from Pasco-Hernando Community College, had been a political hot potato for months.

Harris had proposed building homes on various lot sizes, with one area of higher density — 134 homes — that would be hooked up to Dade City water and sewer.

That area was the main sticking point with opponents, who dubbed it "the worm farm" based on how it looked on maps.

The squiggly lines were what made commissioners squirm in November — and led to a two-hour struggle over how to handle the request. Whatever was approved in the area, they believed, would set the tone for development in rural northeast Pasco.

"If we make a move on this, we'd be pulling a trigger," Commission Chairman Jack Mariano said in November.

The plan was the first to be proposed under new rules that allow for "conservation subdivisions." Such developments allow higher-density developments as long as they meet certain requirements, such as setting aside 50 percent of land as open space.

Opponents argued that the lots were too small to be placed next to parts of the site that fall into the county's rural protection area.

Developers have said they need at least 266 homes on the site to make it profitable, though the site can be rearranged.

But the land can be developed with 139 homes under current zoning with no restrictions. That also means mobile homes could go in. Berry Hill opponents say they would be okay with that number.

On Tuesday, developers submitted an alternate plan that cuts the number of smaller lots in the "worm farm."

However, the change means bigger lots on the northern end were shrunk to 1 acre and half-acre parcels for the number to still equal 266. Also, the new plan placed homes where the original proposal placed green space at the entrance facing PHCC.

County zoning administrator Debra Zampetti attached a condition that the northern lots be made wider to "give a rural appearance."

She also required that the green space at the entrance be preserved.

On Tuesday, the developers balked at the extra conditions.

"We need an opportunity to analyze this," planner Mike Holbrook said.

"You need 266 units to be economically viable to you," Cox said. "Well, that's not our problem."

The development, which has lingered in the system for two years, drew tie votes when discussed by the county's top planners and the Planning Commission, which is made of residents.

Technically, the tie votes count as recommended denials.

Opponents, who showed up and spoke month after month, saw the withdrawal as a win.

"(Harris) bought that property at the peak (of the housing boom) and if he hadn't he could have had less lots," said Alma Coston, who owns land nearby. "He was out of luck, really."

Lisa Buie can be reached at buie@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4604.

Berry Hill Estates developer withdraws proposal 01/06/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 6, 2009 9:11pm]
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