Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pasco's Harbourtowne landowner owes $53,000 in back property taxes

HUDSON — Sun West Acquisition, the company that owns land where the SunWest Harbourtowne luxury resort is planned, owes Pasco County more than $53,000 in back taxes.

Records show that Sun West fell behind for its 2011 and 2012 taxes in connection with 584 acres it owns in northwest Pasco — land that is at the heart of the 1,000-acre Harbourtowne development.

John G. "Gary" Grubbs, one of the project's partners and the president of Sun West Acquisition, promised the company will pay up by March 1 and explained that it fell behind because Sun West's partners "didn't make a decision" regarding taxes at the time they were due.

He said plans for the development — including 2,500 homes, a 250-room hotel, 500 boat slips and 250,000 square feet of retail space — are still moving ahead.

"Our taxes will be paid. There is no money problem," said Grubbs. "We have big plans and at end of the day that (back taxes) will not stop this train."

Sun West and the county have endured a tangled relationship for years.

At odds at first over the ownership of a former limestone mine in Aripeka, the sides reached a settlement in 2007 in which Sun West agreed to donate 20 acres and $3 million in return for clear title to the remaining property — about 915 acres — where Harbourtowne was to be constructed. The county planned to use the land it received from Sun West to build a public park and wake-board facility.

Later — after county commissioners signed off on the Harbourtowne proposal in 2010 — Sun West and the county partnered to file an appeal against the Army Corps of Engineers when it rejected a permit to dredge a channel in the Gulf of Mexico. The county wanted the permit to allow for a public boat ramp next to the park to give boaters gulf access.

Commissioners are hoping the park and Harbourtowne together spark a wave of economic growth in the Aripeka and Hudson areas. Last week, officials were set to unseal developers' bids to develop the park, which is expected to open this summer.

Further entangling matters, Grubbs and his companies have inserted themselves into Pasco politics directly, giving regularly to political candidates and organizations in Pasco and Hernando counties for years.

Campaign records show Grubbs and some of the companies he is affiliated with, including Sun West Acquisition, contributed $6,700 to Hernando and Pasco candidates in 2011 and 2012 — when Sun West Acquisition didn't pay its property taxes — along with another $5,000 in 2012 to an organization called Let's Get to Work, formed to help Gov. Rick Scott, who's running for re-election.

Meanwhile, Grubbs is also delinquent for the 2012 tax year on a waterfront home and lot he owns in Hernando, records show.

Officials are divided about Sun West's failure to pay taxes on time.

"Those that want to make an impact on Pasco or influence politics in Pasco have every right to do so, but before they start dishing out thousands of dollars in political donations they should pay their property taxes," Pasco Tax Collector Mike Fasano said.

Even though Sun West is delinquent, its taxes were still paid. The bills were sold to investors in the form of interest-bearing tax certificates. Delinquent property owners have three years to redeem the certificates before the properties can be put up for auction.

Pasco Commission Chairman Jack Mariano said he has no problem with Sun West not paying on time. The commission's staunchest supporter of Harbourtowne, Mariano said the county hasn't lost a penny in tax revenue because Sun West's taxes were paid by the investors who now hold the tax certificates. Eventually, he said, Sun West will redeem the certificates to get caught up on its tax bill.

"If I thought there was more to it than that, I would say something, but the county is getting its money," he said. "I have no problem with it."

Former commission chair Ted Schrader said businesses often defer taxes, "but the bottom line is the taxpayer is not harmed by property owners not paying their taxes. If we were pursuing some sort of joint venture on their property, then yeah, I would be concerned about that, but if it's a business decision on their part whether to not pay their taxes, then someone else pays them."

However, he added, "It's never right to not pay your taxes. You have to pay your taxes because you could lose your property."

County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder said the tax issue could have posed a problem had Sun West sought a permit or site plan approval while it was delinquent. County ordinances prohibit land-use approvals to delinquent property owners.

But because commissioners approved the Harbourtowne project in 2010 — before Sun West became listed as delinquent — the company was in the clear to seek the approvals. It could face problems moving forward, but Steinsnyder said that's unlikely.

"It doesn't need any approvals now," he said.

Grubbs, meanwhile, said his company has worked diligently with the county to draft the plan, address environmental concerns and navigate the approval process.

"We've worked hard to take an old mine and turn it into a viable, beautiful project," he said. "We've done our part and will continue to do our part until we fulfil our obligation."

Rich Shopes can be reached at or (727) 869-6236.

Pasco's Harbourtowne landowner owes $53,000 in back property taxes 01/10/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 10, 2014 6:25pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Tampa International Airport morphing into a mini-city unto itself


    TAMPA — By the end of the 2026, Joe Lopano wants Tampa International Airport to function as its own little city.

    Artist rendering of phase two of the $1 billion construction expansion of Tampa International Airport. The airport is transforming 17 acres of airport property that will include at least one hotel, retail and office space and a gas station, among other things.
[Courtesy of Tampa International Airport]
  2. William March: Sheriff Gee denies his resignation was timed to help GOP


    Sheriff David Gee is denying through spokesmen that he planned his 2016 re-election and subsequent resignation to help Republicans hold the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. But Democrats say it seems obvious he did.

  3. Trump meeting with G-7 leaders after going on offensive


    TAORMINA, Italy — In the Middle East, President Donald Trump was feted with pageantry, the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Israel seemingly in competition to outdo the other with the warmth of their welcomes and the depth of their pledges of cooperation.

    From left, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, U.S. President Donald Trump and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni arrive for the group photo at the G7 Taormina summit on the island of Sicily on Friday  in Taormina, Italy. [Getty Images]
  4. Perspective: As the toll climbs, advocates bring renewed attention to Florida gun violence


    Times Staff Writer

    Like most 12-year-old girls, Ra'Mya Eunice loved slumber parties.

    The Empire State Building in New York City was bathed in tangerine light last year to mark National Gun Violence Awareness Day. It was part of the Wear Orange campaign led by the non-profit Everytown for Gun Safety. [Courtesy of Everytown for Gun Safety]
  5. Lawyer says Kushner willing to cooperate with investigators


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is willing to cooperate with federal investigators looking into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, his attorney said.

    In this May 23 photo, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, left, and his wife Ivanka Trump watch during a visit by President Donald Trump to Yad Vashem to honor the victims of the Holocaust in Jerusalem. The Washington Post is reporting that the FBI is investigating meetings that Trump's son-in-law, Kushner, had in December 2016, with Russian officials. [AP photo]