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HART and landowner clash over proposal for Falkenburg park and ride

BRANDON — Hillsborough Area Regional Transit could be in for a long court battle over its plans to purchase 4 acres on Falkenburg Road to build a park-and-ride station.

Listing agent T. Sean Lance of Troubled Asset Optimization said the property's Ohio-based owners, DDR Corp., have so far rejected three offers of more than $1 million from HART for the property just south of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway and west of Interstate 75.

"Based on their proposal, when the offer price came in it was not acceptable, and once we understood what their plans were for the property we didn't want to incorporate them into our overall project," he said. "It wouldn't work."

HART says it's planning to build a beefed-up park-and-ride to whisk commuters to downtown Tampa and MacDill Air Force Base.

The agency still is configuring route plans for the site, which sits a quarter of a mile south of the expressway's entrance, but says it plans to have the 25LX and 27LX buses pick up passengers at the Brandon station and that several other routes, including the 22X and 24X, might make stops there as well.

Unlike most HART park-and-rides — in many instances little more than a bench or two at a shopping center — the Brandon station would include 200 to 250 parking spaces, covered waiting areas with benches and possibly restrooms and an indoor snack bar or small convenience store.

Officials were hoping to present a purchase agreement to the HART board for final approval next month.

Lance said that's not likely to happen now. DDR has rejected two offers made since mid-year as well as the agency's latest offer of $1.38 million, which came in the form of a Nov. 8 letter from the transit agency's representative for real estate purchases, American Acquisition Group, LLC.

That letter references the Florida statute dealing with eminent domain and notes the HART board may authorize efforts to try to condemn the property "if negotiation is unsuccessful." Lance said DDR has referred the matter to its attorneys and now expects the issue to end up in court.

"They're going to have to deal with the attorneys and the court system, and I know DDR will vigorously fight it," he said. "They don't want to turn it over to HART. If HART chooses to proceed, I think they may be in for an expensive and protracted battle."

DDR manages 538 shopping centers in 41 states, Puerto Rico and Brazil, including North Pointe Plaza at 15001 N Dale Mabry Highway and New Tampa Commons at Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and Dona Michelle Drive. The company reported revenues of $803 million in 2010.

Lance said the company acquired the Falkenburg property, along with 38 adjoining acres, about three years ago to develop an apartment complex, a hotel and possibly a shopping plaza. The property HART wants to purchase would consume space set aside for the hotel, he said.

The company is entertaining offers for the land and having a park-and-ride at the site would devalue the property around it, Lance said. Also, DDR would be forced to significantly alter its development plans if HART succeeds in acquiring the 4 acres through eminent domain.

HART spokeswoman Marcia Mejia said the agency has no plans to try to condemn the property and that the HART board has not taken up the issue.

"The intent of the letter and with how it's titled as a 'statement of offer' does not indicate that we would proceed with eminent domain. It is an offer, and at this point on this particular piece of property eminent domain will not be executed until it's approved by the HART board," she said.

HART also is trying purchase land at Interstate 75 and Fletcher Avenue for another park-and-ride station. Mejia said the agency will not comment on how negotiations for that property are proceeding.

Funding for the two park-and-ride stations came from a bond approved by Hillsborough commissioners three years ago to finance transit projects, including a new rapid bus transit system.

It was expected the system might stop at the new park-and-ride stations to connect passengers to downtown Tampa, the University of South Florida and the West Shore district.

Reach Rich Shopes at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

HART and landowner clash over proposal for Falkenburg park and ride 12/22/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 27, 2011 5:53pm]
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