DADE CITY — It all boiled down to the what ifs.
What if the concept of allowing conservation subdivisions — developments that get to have more houses in exchange for at least half a tract being left open — ends up creating a bigger footprint than just letting developments have fewer homes spread all over?
That's what bothered three members of the county's Development Review Committee when they voted to deny a plan for Berry Hill Estates, a 403-acre property that developers want to build 266 homes on.
"What benefit would a conservation subdivision have over straight zoning?" asked Assistant County Administrator Dan Johnson during a meeting Thursday. "I originally liked the idea of conservation subdivision. Now I'm not sure."
He and County Administrator John Gallagher, along with school district representative Chris Williams, all voted against the development, which would sit on a picturesque plot across the road from Pasco-Hernando Community College's Dade City campus.
Three other committee members, assistant administrators Bipin Parikh, Bruce Kennedy and Mike Nurrenbrock all voted in favor of the development.
The tie vote still sends the measure to the Planning Commission, but the committee's official recommendation is denial.
"We're encouraged," said Tanya Kaaa, who lives off Platt Road on land that borders the proposed neighborhood.
The vote came after neighbors lined up to speak against the proposal. They expressed fears of losing their rural lifestyle, of light pollution, of extra traffic.
"I don't think this project fits in with what's here," Kaaa said.
Developers initially proposed 266 homes but shuffled their plans after approval was postponed amid opposition from neighbors. They returned with a plan that still called for the same number of homes but some homes that were set to be on 1-acre lots would now sit on 2 acres. They also offered to install 300 feet of buffer, triple the initial amount, on the edge of the project next to Platt Road.
County staffers had recommended approval of the plan, which was first submitted in April to the committee.
Residents said Thursday they favored an alternative plan that would put 135 homes on the land. Developer representative Michael Holbrook had told residents these could possibly be mobile homes, which would be allowed under existing zoning.
On Thursday, he told county officials — who asked numerous questions about access in and out of the proposed neighborhood and the safety of curvy Blanton Road in front of the neighborhood — that the property owners had worked to address staff concerns.
"This has been a year-and-a-half in the making," he said.
Staffers pointed out that under conservation subdivision rules, the developer would be allowed to put 366 homes on the land but had offered to put fewer. County officials can deny the development outright but can't tell developers they have to put in fewer homes if the neighborhood qualifies as such a subdivision.
Gallagher said several times during the meeting he wants to be especially cautious about what is ultimately approved for that area, which would be the first project that far north to be developed.
Lisa Buie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4604.