DADE CITY — When it came before county officials in April 2008, the proposed Citrus Ridge development drew so much opposition from neighbors that developers asked for an indefinite delay to try to broaden support for what would be a 358-home community.
The strategy didn't work.
Opponents, wearing their signature red shirts, showed up in force Wednesday to renew their protests against Citrus Ridge, a 112-acre development proposed off St. Joe Road west of Dade City, when it came before the county planning commission.
In the end, planning commissioners sided with the opponents, voting unanimously against the proposal. County commissioners, however, have the final say.
"This does not appear to be compatible (with the surrounding area)," said planning commissioner Allison Fogarty, who moved to deny the request based on the fact that the proposed development was too close to rural areas, would create an isolated high-density district, exacerbate traffic problems and cause flooding.
The development is on property owned by URADCO, the investment arm of the Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative. It has sparked fierce opposition since it was first proposed three years ago. Plans originally called for 450 homes, but developers pared down the request after top county administrators required a lower density for approval.
Opponents, however, said that density — 3.2 homes per acre — was still too high. They argued two homes per acre was more appropriate with the surrounding area.
Joel Tew, attorney for the developers, said Wednesday that his clients would accept nothing less than the 358-home limit allowed by the county's top brass.
"I am not here to debate or horse trade density today," Tew told planning commissioners. He described the proposed development, which will have a town center, as "a nice concept" with a variety of homes.
"People will have the ability to spend their life there," he said.
Tew hinted at legal action if the project is rejected, saying, "If we have to defend this in a court of law we are fully prepared to do so."
Planning commissioner Jon Moody dismissed Tew's statements after the vote.
"I don't think we should be afraid of Mr. Tew's veiled threats," he said. The crowd erupted in applause.
Opponents again expressed concerns about how the proposed development would ruin the area's rural character and was not needed in a county already awash in foreclosed homes. They argued that the property was in an area designated for transition from rural to urban development and therefore should be less dense than surrounding neighborhoods.
The development also has drawn opposition from officials in Dade City, which turned down the developer's initial request for the proposed neighborhood to be annexed. City officials showed up Wednesday to renew their objections.
"If we had our druthers, Dade City with the orange groves before the freeze is what we'd want to see," Mayor Scott Black said. But he said, residents know "that's not going to happen."
"We want it to be done right in a manner consistent with Dade City," he said.