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Proposed Berry Hill Estates in Dade City is on Tuesday agenda

DADE CITY — It's back.

Berry Hill Estates, the 266-home subdivision proposed for 403 hilly acres across from Pasco-Hernando Community College, an issue that has been a political hot potato for months, is back on the County Commission agenda for a final vote Tuesday.

Just because the item is listed doesn't mean it will get decided. Commissioners have already postponed the matter twice.

Land owner Tracy Harris had proposed building homes on various lot sizes, with one area of higher density — 134 homes — that would be hooked up to Dade City water and sewer.

That area is the main sticking point with opponents, who have dubbed it "the worm farm" based on how it looks on maps.

The squiggly lines were what made commissioners squirm in November — and led to a two-hour struggle over how to handle the request. Whatever happens to the area will set the tone for development in rural northeast Pasco.

"If we make a move on this, we'd be pulling a trigger," Commission Chairman Jack Mariano said in November.

The plan was the first to be proposed under new rules that allow for "conservation subdivisions." Such developments allow higher density developments as long as they meet certain requirements, such as setting aside 50 percent of land as open space.

Opponents argued that the lots were too small to be placed next to parts of the site that fall into the county's rural protection area.

"This is the gateway," opponent Carol Cruz said during the last meeting. "The first project you put here should make this rural area a beautiful place."

Commissioner Pat Mulieri expressed concern about the density and urged developers to return with a better plan. Commissioners Michael Cox and Ann Hildebrand echoed those sentiments and expressed hope for a compromise.

Developers have said they need at least 266 homes on the site to make it profitable, though the site can be rearranged.

But Commissioner Ted Schrader, in whose district Berry Hill lies, pointed out that the land can be developed under current zoning with no restrictions. That means mobile homes could go in.

Zoning administrator Debra Zampetti said Wednesday that the developers have submitted an alternate plan that cuts the number of smaller lots in the "worm farm." However, the change means bigger lots on the northern end were shrunk to 1 acre and half-acre parcels to make the number still equal 266. Also, the entrance facing PHCC was originally green space, but under the new plan, homes are set to be built there also.

Zampetti said officials are recommending that the northern lots be made wider to "give the illusion of more space."

The development, which has lingered in the system for two years, has drawn tie votes when discussed by the county's top planners and the Planning Commission, which is made of residents.

Technically, the tie votes count as recommended denials.

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

Fast facts

If you go

Pasco County commissioners are set to take up the Berry Hill Estates proposal during the public hearing part of its meeting, which begins at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Pasco County historic courthouse on Meridian Avenue in Dade City.

Proposed Berry Hill Estates in Dade City is on Tuesday agenda 01/04/09 [Last modified: Sunday, January 4, 2009 5:25pm]
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