DADE CITY — When county commissioners finally get to decide the fate of a 266-home development proposed for a picturesque plot northwest of Dade City, they won't be able to rely on any recommendations from advisory groups.
That's because two panels — the Development Review Committee and the Planning Commission — have each deadlocked on whether to rezone the area and let the owners of the 403-acre property build what they named Berry Hill Estates.
Technically, the tie votes count as denials, but the fact that two groups recorded stalemates will make it a tougher issue for commissioners.
"When commissioners hear it, there won't be a tie because there's five of them," said Terry Schrader, developer and brother of County Commission Chairman Ted Schrader, as he watched Wednesday's Planning Commission meeting in which the members tied 4-4.
That panel got the proposal after the DRC tied 3-3 on the matter in May. No date has been set yet for the County Commission hearing.
Developers of the hillside property across from Pasco-Hernando Community College initially submitted plans for 266 homes clustered in varying densities but shuffled their plans after approval was postponed amid strong opposition from neighbors.
They returned with a plan that called for the same number of homes, but some homes that were set to be on 1-acre lots would sit on 2 acres. They also offered to install a 300-foot buffer, triple the original amount, on the edge of the project next to Platt Road.
The plan was in line with a county-approved concept called a conservation subdivision. The provision allows more homes in exchange for at least half a tract being left open. County staff had recommended approval of the plan with conditions.
It's not that the property can't be developed. Under existing zoning rules, 200 homes could be built there with no special county approval.
Neighbors, who have shown up at previous meetings, came out in force again Wednesday to make their voices heard.
They have expressed concern that such a dense development would contribute to noise, traffic and light pollution and ruin the area's rural character.
"It's our jewel," said Dorothy Wood. "It's a gateway to the rural area."
Neighbors urged officials to postpone any decisions until the county could write ordinances that better protect northeast Pasco. They fear, and County Administrator John Gallagher has expressed similar concern, that what happens with Berry Hill will set a precedent for the rest of the area.
"I think we need to not rush into this," said Wilbur Greenhall.
Mike Holbrook, who represents the Berry Hill property owners, said his clients have worked for 21/2 years and deserve an answer.
He said the owners have followed the rules and that the greater density in parts of the neighborhood is needed to make the development profitable and to provide moderately priced housing for the growing work force at PHCC.
Planning commissioners differed on their views.
"I think we need to have everything in place before we give permission for development like this to take place," said Commissioner Calvin Blanche.
But Chairman Charles Grey said it's wrong for officials to just string landowners along.
"This is the kind of thing that tends to give government a bad name," he said.
Lisa Buie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4604.