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More density near Anclote River in Pasco draws environmental opposition in Pinellas

NEW PORT RICHEY — A proposal to allow 200 acres near the Anclote River to be earmarked for dense residential development, business and light industry has drawn opposition from Pinellas County environmentalists who fear possible effects downstream.

"With so many environmental, cultural and other issues on site, our organization is worried that such intense development will have negative effects on these sensitive resources," wrote Barbara Walker of the Clearwater Audubon Society. "We ask that you please deny this request and ensure these irreplaceable natural resources are protected for future generations."

The land sits on the south side of State Road 54 east of Madison Street in the Elfers area and is owned by members of the Harvey family.

It is now designated for six homes per acre. The change would double that on about 90 acres, and allow four times that amount — 24 homes per acre — on nearly 11 acres, according to the proposal submitted to the county. It would set aside 30 acres for commercial use and about 24 acres for light industry such as office parks, and reserve a little more than 35 acres along the river as conservation land.

Pasco County staff has recommended approval, and county commissioners recently granted initial approval while sitting as the local planning agency.

The matter comes up for a final vote during the public hearings segment of the County Commission meeting that starts at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. The meeting will be held at the West Pasco Government Center on Little Road in New Port Richey.

If approved, the measure will be sent to state officials for review.

Representatives of the property owners say the proposal protects the river and allows for a 50-foot setback from the flood line. It also preserves all the required wetlands by designating them as conservation land, and, as required in the county land development code, does not set aside adjacent land for industrial uses.

The owner's land use attorney, Barbara Wilhite, did not return calls Thursday, but a report submitted by the county's consultant says the change would create between 725 and 1,332 jobs between now and 2025 when the project is expected to be built out.

The report says the area already has subdivisions that include Colonial Hills, Tanglewood Terrace, Virginia City, Anclote River Estates and Seven Springs.

Anclote Elementary School was constructed in 1975 at the southwest corner of the property.

A commercial development pattern evolved along SR 54, which has been improved to a six-lane divided highway, the report said. The Elfers Square Shopping Center across SR 54 at Madison Street was built in 1978 and contains a grocery store, retail shops, a bank and offices.

Opponents say that's no reason to approve more development. They are concerned that the area has a freshwater spring that connects to the aquifer and runs into the river as well as two sinkholes.

"Those show up on a topographical map," said Mathew Poling, a 19-year-old forestry major at the University of Florida and a resident of Tarpon Springs. Poling unsuccessfully fought to keep Pinellas County from building water treatment plants in the Brooker Creek Preserve.

Poling said the county has a policy that requires a 500-foot buffer around sinkholes.

The Pinellas environmentalists also said the land includes an archaeological site.

"We're not against development," said Walker of the Audubon Society. "We just want to make sure it's done responsibly."

Poling said society members met with county staff and would try to talk with commissioners before Tuesday's meeting. He said they have been unsuccessful in attempts to meet with Wilhite.

The proposed development also has gotten the attention of the Tarpon Springs City Commission. It sent a letter to the county asking to be kept in the loop.

"The Anclote River is recognized in the City of Tarpon Springs' comprehensive plan as a critical asset to many facets of the city's economy and quality of life," it said. "Water quality is of the utmost importance … and the city encourages the Pasco Board of Commissioners to insure, at a minimum, that water quality is not degraded and ideally, that water quality is improved with this and future developments that may ultimately impact the Anclote River."

County staffers said they were looking into the concerns raised by the Pinellas residents and would have more information by Tuesday.

Commissioner Ann Hildebrand, whose district includes the property, said she'd keep an open mind.

"I know that property very well," she said. "A lot of folks become accustomed to seeing that oasis of green with that urbanization all around it. I'm going to wait and see."

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

More density near Anclote River in Pasco draws environmental opposition in Pinellas 08/20/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 20, 2009 8:11pm]
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