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In Pasco's Key Vista, mischief thrives in woods

Key Vista maintenance supervisor Clyde Watson says it is common for him to find bonfire sites like this one still burning when he patrols the woods around Key Vista in the morning. He found this one Friday.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Key Vista maintenance supervisor Clyde Watson says it is common for him to find bonfire sites like this one still burning when he patrols the woods around Key Vista in the morning. He found this one Friday.

HOLIDAY — The trouble started with the wild pigs.

The hungry omnivores began making a mess of lawns and ponds in the Key Vista subdivision east of Baillies Bluff Road late last year.

"Like someone went through with a rototiller," subdivision maintenance supervisor Clyde Watson said.

Watson said he trapped 16 of the critters between late December and early March near the undeveloped edges of Key Vista. He said his work in the woods confirmed residents' reports of more troubling activity beyond the subdivision's tree-lined limits.

"Our main concern is the wild parties, not the wild hogs," Watson said. "What surprised me back there was the number of adults in camo and four-wheel drives."

In the past six months or so Key Vista residents have become increasingly alarmed about gunfire, bonfires, drinking and people racing four-wheel drive and all-terrain vehicles in the woods south of the community.

Jennifer Adler, president of the Key Vista Master Homeowners Association, called the situation "a free-for-all" in a January e-mail to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office pleading for help.

"We are most concerned with the shooting and the fire hazard," she said in an interview last week.

Key Vista is surrounded by about 500 undeveloped acres, most of it southwest of the subdivision and stretching to the Pasco-Pinellas county line at Anclote Boulevard. Land owners include county and state agencies, Progress Energy and developer Ryland Homes, which built Key Vista.

Watson pointed out numerous fire pits strewn with beer cans, empty coolers and other debris during a 30-minute golf cart tour of the area.

Tire tracks line the dirt roads and sandy trails slashed through the woods and fields. Household garbage and other waste, such as stripped wire casing, litters the landscape near an opening off Baillies Bluff Road.

An abandoned farmhouse has been sacked by vandals.

Ben Wilson, Ryland's regional land manager, said the area has been more trouble for the company than most of its property holdings.

"We've barricaded it, we've fenced it, we've posted it I don't know how many times," he said. "We've done everything in our power."

Due to the sluggish housing market, Ryland is trying to sell 116 acres in the area that it previously planned to develop. The asking price is $6.1 million.

Progress Energy spokeswoman Suzanne Grant said the company has worked with the Pasco Sheriff's Office to enforce no-trespassing laws on its transmission right of ways near Key Vista.

"We understand this is a concern" for residents, she said.

Sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll said deputies have issued 111 trespass warnings or citations since December 2006 in the woods near Key Vista. He said undercover deputies on ATVs conducted operations in the area in March and April.

But Doll also acknowledged that budget cuts, including eliminating community policing and aerial patrols, have hampered the agency's ability to handle such nuisance problems.

"Our understaffing is no secret," Doll said. "They are seeing it firsthand out there."

Construction at Key Vista began in 2000, with the last of 718 houses completed about four years ago. The property Ryland is selling is zoned for up to 600 multifamily units built up to 85 feet high, a prospect that has drawn complaints from Key Vista residents.

Increased activity near Key Vista may reflect a shift of troublemakers from the southern end of the undeveloped land.

The partying and vandalism in the southern part of the woods "has gone way down," said Steve Cristofori, manager of Faye's RV camp at the dead end of Calvary Road, close to the nearly completed Anclote High School, which is set to open in August.

"There used to be caravans of people going in there; they were just going crazy," Cristofori said. "They used to party all night."

Cpl. Gennis Folsom Jr., a member of the sheriff's agricultural and environmental unit that patrols such open spaces, said the problems near Key Vista are similar to other undeveloped parts of the county.

"Every time Ryland or Progress Energy blocks off an entry, (trespassers) go and create another opening," Folsom said. "It used to be much worse until the high school started construction. That was a main point of entry."

Mark Holan can be reached at newsmark@hotmail.com.

In Pasco's Key Vista, mischief thrives in woods 05/16/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 16, 2009 3:21pm]

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