Lake Jovita neighbors, Saint Leo University strike deal on expansion

ST. LEO — Town Hall had never been so packed. People crammed into every space. Some sat cross-legged on the floor Monday night and for hours watched lawyers and land use experts make their cases.

Saint Leo University wants to expand its campus, which sits next to Lake Jovita, a 1,000-acre subdivision that boasts championship golf courses and some of Pasco County's most expensive homes.

The university has since April sought approval from the St. Leo town commissioners to build a soccer field and a parking garage. It hopes to break ground in November. Neighbors at Lake Jovita have delayed approval with concerns about destruction of woods and wetlands and maintaining residents' privacy.

Lake Jovita resident Dennis Huffman referred to broken promises during construction of the softball field in 2005.

"It was, 'we'll do this and we'll do that,' before Sherman marched through Georgia," Huffman said. "We need to hold their feet to the fire to do what they say."

Others also got their chance to vent: Ray Davis protested a proposed jogging path that would cross his back yard, local attorney Charlie Waller challenged "the lights and the noise" and Eric Parrish complained about a history of "don't worry be happy" negotiations.

Frank Mezanini, the university's vice president of business affairs, brought Orlando attorney Thomas Gould, Lakeland architect Dan Fowler and a horticulturalist.

The Lake Jovita Homeowners Association was represented by land use attorney Barbara Wilhite and Cliff Manuel, president of Coastal Engineering Associates Inc.

Gould told the commission that the university has "gone above and beyond to accommodate a barrage of demands."

Manuel called for specific language concerning protection of woods and hillsides. He insisted upon a 145-foot buffer zone along with replacement of 238 large trees.

The commission said approval will be contingent on the following:

• The university agrees to guarantee a 145-foot buffer zone and to replace trees destroyed during the project. In addition, it must create two parallel columns of native foliage.

• Before any construction can begin in November, a buffer must be staked out, provisions for erosion control must be met, and no lighting can be installed without future approval.

• A slope of no less than 65 feet is to be built and the 220-foot northern boundary must remain as woods.

The next step is up to landscape architects representing each party. They will tweak the site plan before submitting it to town planner John Norsoph. The final site plan and construction approvals could come as early as September.

On Tuesday, Ronnie Deese, president of the homeowners association, expressed satisfaction over the meeting. "They've always been good neighbors,'' he said.

Lake Jovita neighbors, Saint Leo University strike deal on expansion 07/12/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 12, 2011 10:00pm]

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