RUSKIN — Thousands of acres of farmland cover the landscape in this rural corner of southeast Hillsborough.
But large landowners have banded together to replace farms with thousands of homes.
Will Redd, manager of the Mormon Church's Deseret Farms, formed the group last year.
Challenges like citrus canker brought about a dozen landowners together, he said in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times earlier this month.
County guidelines limit development of the roughly 5,000 acres south of Ruskin to only one home per 5 acres. In presentations to nearby property owners last year, coalition representatives said they wanted to develop two homes per acre on their land.
That would be about 9,000 more homes than rules currently allow.
"We'd like the development to go further south," said Mike Samilian, acting CEO of Speedling Inc.
After hearing about the growing coalition, Samilian said he asked if his company's 130 acres — currently used for vegetable farming — could also be included.
"We wanted to be involved now, so hopefully we'll be ready," he said. "The market's not going to stay down."
Carlton & Carlton Ranch owner Dennis Carlton said he had no immediate plans for the 85 acres he owns in the area. But he joined the group because he liked the idea of planning with a larger area in mind, rather than one landowner's property.
"What's there now really is not something that's very proactive at all," he said. "The land to the south in Manatee County is relatively high density. A county line shouldn't be a stopping point."
Liz Abernathy, a senior project manager at WilsonMiller who is representing the group, declined to comment on specifics of the coalition or its plans. She said the group is still shaping its proposal and will participate in the South Side Community Plan, a county-led effort that recently began.
"We have a lot of different ideas," she said.
But county guidelines prohibiting the extension of water and sewer lines in rural areas could be a significant obstacle.
And already, some community members have raised concerns about the group.
Mariella Smith, a Ruskin resident who regularly attends community planning meetings, said such increased development would destroy rural areas across Hillsborough.
"It would set a terrible precedent for the rest of the county, if they're allowed to do that there," she said.
Times Staff Writer Michael Van Sickler contributed to this report. Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at email@example.com or 661-2454.