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Newland Communities scales back plans for FishHawk Ranch development

LITHIA — With 3,200 homes spread over 1,130 acres, Lake Hutto was going to be one of the largest housing developments in southeastern Hillsborough County.

Along with housing, the developer would fund $72 million in road improvements, including widening some of the areas most traveled streets including Lithia-Pinecrest and Bell Shoals roads.

What a difference a few years, a real estate crash and a different developer make.

Newland Communities, which bought the property from Pulte Homes in 2007, submitted its revamped plans for the development last week.

In its filing to the county planning office, Newland said it plans to cut the number of homes by 18.7 percent and decrease money for infrastructure improvements by more than half to $33 million.

"When we purchased the property in 2007, it came with entitlements already approved," said Rick Harcrow, senior vice president of operations for Newland. "That's not the plan Newland would develop."

The housing market crash, coupled with Newland's slow, steady approach to building "master-planned communities," have led to the company's downsized plans, Harcrow said.

The plan the developers of FishHawk Ranch do want to see entails about 2,600 homes and more office and retail space than before. Newland also doesn't expect to start what it now calls Circa FishHawk until 2012, a year Pulte once set as the project's completion date.

Since 2008, Newland has been talking about a smaller community on the parcel, which it purchased from Pulte for $50 million. Newland expects to build about 1,800 housing units consisting of single-family homes, townhomes and apartments on the 710 acres slated for Circa FishHawk. The development is located near FishHawk Boulevard and Boyette Road.

The company will develop the remaining land and homes at another phase of Starling, a section of FishHawk Ranch located north of FishHawk Boulevard.

"We're doing this at a time when there aren't a lot of us left," Harcrow said. "The fact that we're making a commitment … I think that sends a significant message to the community."

As examples of its commitment to the development, Newland points to the 26 acres it donated for the construction of Stowers Elementary and Barrington Middle schools. The company said it also has given $3 million for the expansion of Newsome High School and spent millions in the design and permitting stages for road improvements.

County officials are reviewing Newland's recently submitted plans, along with the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council and the state Department of Transportation, said John Healey, a county planner. Once planners complete the review, officials will schedule a public hearing.

Though she had yet to see what Newland submitted to the county, Lithia resident Pam Clouston said that rumors about the changes had been floating around the community. Clouston, who is also president of Rural Lithia Area Neighborhood Defense, said that FishHawk Ranch created the "traffic situation" residents deal with now.

Along with less support from Newland for roads, she said she's concerned about two Circa FishHawk road improvements placed on a potential list of projects funded by the proposed 1 cent sales tax to improve transportation in the county.

"Unfortunately now, they're hoping the citizens will pay for it and who knows when any of this is going to be done by Newland Communities," Clouston said.

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com, or (813) 661-2454.

Newland Communities scales back plans for FishHawk Ranch development 03/04/10 [Last modified: Thursday, March 4, 2010 3:31am]
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