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More than 250 homes could plow into rural Pasco lifestyles

Behind Tanya Kaaa and her son, Jonah, 7, is the area where hundreds of homes would go in northeast Pasco County.

MIKE PEASE | Times

Behind Tanya Kaaa and her son, Jonah, 7, is the area where hundreds of homes would go in northeast Pasco County.

BLANTON — Tanya Kaaa adores the hills that tower across the dirt road from her white, country-style home.

She can even imagine Julie Andrews as Maria von Trapp twirling at the top of one as the music crescendos to a peak.

"When we first got here, I said, 'There she is,' " she joked.

Since they settled here 18 months ago, days are spent relaxing in front porch rockers and sipping sweet tea, making suet for bird feeders or tending the backyard vegetable garden. Their homeschooled son, Jonah, 7, plays on a tire swing and zips around on his four-wheeler. He and his father, Kaaa's husband, Noah, shoot BB guns in "the hole," a pit dug by crews who filmed the movie Edward Scissorhands. They wanted a lower vantage point to make the castle facade look taller.

Life on Platt Road was perfect, until about three weeks ago when they got the letter.

Addressed to "Blanton Area Neighbor," it described a plan to build more than 250 homes on the 403 acres of hills across the road from Kaaas' home. The new neighborhood would be called Berry Hill Estates.

"There are many concerns with this development, environmental and road congestion, just to name a couple," the anonymous letter said. It urged everyone to attend the county Development Review Committee meeting, where county officials consider such projects.

After being postponed a week, the matter is set to be heard today.

The Kaaas did not receive official notification from the county about the meeting because only their easement, not their home, abuts the property. County rules require notification for only homes that abut areas seeking rezoning.

"My heart sank," said Kaaa, 41, a Florida native who grew up in Riverview back when it was the woods and everybody knew everybody.

Hers is the story being told over and over across Florida. Residents weary of strip malls and cookie-cutter homes and gridlock leave in search of a rural lifestyle, only to learn that development is headed their way.

It's beginning to play out in northeast Pasco as the growth that has overrun the center of the county makes its way to more remote areas. It's playing out in nearby Citrus Ridge, where residents are fighting a proposed 358-home subdivision, saying it's too urban. Developers put that project on hold while they try to win more supporters.

Both developments are "trying to break open the rural area for more high-density development," said Richard Riley, an activist who has been consulting with opponents of both projects.

"We have people who can't sell their homes, homes that are being foreclosed, and still developers are asking for permission to build more homes," he said. "I wish that the state of Florida allowed 'need' to be a criteria for approval of development."

County staff members have recommended that officials approve the request from Berry Hill Estates.

They have attached a list of 48 conditions, including that a 100-foot buffer be built around the perimeter, right and left turn lanes be added to Blanton Road, and half the land be designated common areas.

County zoning administrator Debra Zampetti said the development meets the county's criteria for a conservation subdivision because the homes are in clusters and leave half the area as green space.

"Is it perfect? No. Will the Development Review Committee change it a little bit? They might, but overall I think (the developers) did a good job with it."

Representatives for the property owners say they are being good stewards and trying to maintain the character of the area.

"Technically, if you went by the letter of the law, you could have 344 units on the property," said Michael Holbrook, director of planning for Bowyer Singleton & Associates Inc.

He said 121 70-foot-wide lots are an effort to address the county's need for affordable housing.

"Not everyone can afford to live on a 5-acre estate," he said.

He was careful to note that the homes were not "low cost" subsidized housing, but homes targeted toward young families and those in occupations such as teaching and law enforcement.

Plans also call for 74 half-acre lots, 63 1-acre lots, and eight 4-acre lots.

Holbrook said previous owners once filed a development application that would have put 1,100 homes on the property.

He said the owners want to allow all but the largest lots to connect to Dade City water and sewer and had to request a number of homes that would make that feasible.

"If you had 80 5-acre lots, each would be on septics and there'd be challenges with the wells you'd be putting in a (water) recharge area," he said.

As for density, smaller lots create more efficiency and discourage sprawl, he said.

"The worst thing Pasco County could do right now is do nothing and allow 2 1/2-acre ranchettes," he said.

Residents disagree.

"I'd feel better if it were similar to what's already out here," Kaaa said.

If county officials give the nod to Berry Hill today, opponents still have chances to derail it. The development must win approval from the Planning Commission and ultimately from the County Commission before building can begin.

If that happens, what's next for Kaaa?

"I guess we'll just have to live with it," she said. The house sits at the bottom of a hill, way off a dirt path so the only view is tall grass waving in the wind.

"At least I won't be able see it," she said. "That's my saving grace."

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

>>If you go

Development Review Committee meeting

When: 1:30 p.m. today

Where: Pasco County historic courthouse, Dade City

More than 250 homes could plow into rural Pasco lifestyles 04/16/08 [Last modified: Friday, April 18, 2008 10:02am]
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