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Work permits may be reissued for Cypress Creek mall

LAND O'LAKES — Cypress Creek Town Center, which for most of this year has been a moonscape off State Road 54 near Interstate 75, may become a construction site again if federal regulators decide to reissue a permit.

The Army Corps of Engineers has said it is reconsidering whether to "reinstate, modify, or revoke" the permit and set a Jan. 15 deadline for the public to comment on the matter or request a public hearing.

The corps suspended the proposed mall's development permit Feb. 1 after heavy rain sent muddy water overflowing from a retention pond into Cypress Creek. The creek, which sits on the southern and western borders of the site, feeds Hillsborough County's drinking water supply and is a federally protected waterway.

The Cleveland-based Jacobs Group, developer of the 1-million-square-foot project along with Sierra Properties of Tampa, and its prospective tenants agreed to halt construction at the site at Interstate 75 and State Road 56.

The stoppage came in waves, beginning in mid February when work ceased on an area earmarked for a Target store.

The corps said in its notice Tuesday that it would base its decision to reissue the permit on whether the developers could provide reassurances that no more pollution would occur. The new permit also would address minor housekeeping issues that needed to be resolved since the original permit.

The proposed mall has been dogged by controversy since the beginning. The Sierra Club sued the corps over the permit in 2007, saying it didn't adequately assess the environmental impact of the mall. The case remains open.

Sierra spokeswoman Denise Layne said Thursday no one had told the group about the possible reinstatement of the permit. She said she would resubmit all the material the group submitted originally and perhaps more, depending on what the group's lawyers advise.

Layne was not happy with the timing of the public notice.

"Government always does this during the holidays," she said. "I have seen some of the ugliest rezonings take place then."

In October, Tampa-based Kearney Construction Co. LLC filed a lawsuit over $1.6-million in unpaid fees for work done at the site. That case also is pending.

Corps spokesman Tom Farrell said penalties for the pollution are still being worked out. He said the decision regarding the permit was a "parallel issue" that likely required a public hearing because of the lawsuit and the project's high profile.

"Everything is at a heightened level now," he said.

If constructed, the proposed mall would be one of the largest retail projects in the Tampa Bay area. It represents more than $150-million in financial commitments and thousands of promised jobs.

Mall officials had announced 42 tenants, including Target, Kohl's and Books-A-Million. It lost two, Circuit City and Linens-n-Things, to bankruptcy.

Mall spokeswoman Deanne Roberts said Thursday the developers remain committed to the project but will have to rebid some of it and determine a new opening date. The Web site now has the mall opening in fall 2009.

"Since this project has been on hold for nearly a year, we will also need to again coordinate our plans with the major retailers that had previously committed to the project. The current state of the economy has affected many retailers' expansion plans, not just in the Tampa Bay area but nationwide, so it is possible that some changes will occur in our tenant mix."

The developers have kept a commitment to widen State Road 54, which runs just west of the project. When finished at the end of the month, it will go from four to six lanes.

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

Work permits may be reissued for Cypress Creek mall 12/18/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 22, 2008 2:00pm]
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