NEW PORT RICHEY — The devil was in the details for a resort proposed for coastal Pasco County.
A committee of top county officials gave preliminary approval Thursday to developers of SunWest Harbourtowne and also granted the necessary rezoning for the 1,000-acre community, which would feature hundreds of homes, offices, commercial buildings and a resort.
But the Development Review Committee stopped short of approving an agreement outlining the developers' obligations after too many questions surfaced about the language in the document.
Officials agreed to postpone a vote on the agreement until the next meeting on Feb. 11. Land use attorney Ben Harrill said he was certain the wrinkles could be ironed out by then.
Frustrated by too many "last-minute changes," County Administrator John Gallagher told staff to come back later.
"You didn't do a very good job on this," he admonished planners. Even if approved by the Development Review Committee, the agreement must also win approval from the County Commission.
The project, which would replace an active mining site in Aripeka, is classified as a development of regional impact and therefore must undergo a higher level of scrutiny than smaller developments. It has been on the drawing board for about three years.
Developers have estimated they may not have all approvals in hand until mid 2011.
Its southern border is to be a newly dredged channel to the Gulf of Mexico abutting a new 312-acre county park with multiple boat ramps.
Environmentalists have fought the project on a number of fronts. A chief concern has been the destruction of habitat for the Florida black bear.
On Thursday, they were at the lectern again, this time asking why it had to be approved before a detailed habitat management plan could be approved, preferably by an independent panel of experts.
"Why the hurry to approve SunWest Harbourtowne (Development of Regional Impact)?" asked Lance Arvidson of Wildlands Conservation, a group that acts as a consultant for the Central Florida Regional Planning Council.
Quoting a letter from the group, he said, "We feel that it would be remiss to approve the development, until we have adequate assurances that the impacts (direct and indirect) to the black bear sub population will be mitigated for on a landscape level, and that an appropriate management plan exists."
The concerns drew a response from Georgianne Ratliff, a planner for the developers.
She said it was unfair for her clients to have to pay for a study on a project that ultimately may not be approved. The developers have pledged to pay about $29 million for road improvements in the area.
She told county officials that developers had been in constant contact with county and state agencies about a mitigation plan for bears.
Of all the projects she has worked on that required such plans, she said, "This goes further than any of those have."
Ratliff also addressed concerns that the state expressed in September about homes being built in a velocity zone, the coastal area that would take the hardest hit in a hurricane.
She said the number of homes in that zone would be limited to 100, and they would be required to be "fortified." She added that the development would draft a hurricane preparedness plan, with evacuation plans for each part of the development.
Lisa Buie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4604.