Don't expect the yachts to sail into Aripeka anytime soon. While County Commissioner Jack Mariano gushes about opening coastal Pasco County to a global vacationing and nautical community, a more reserved approach is recommended. The path for SunWest Harbourtowne to transform a former mine into a luxury resort still requires federal approval for a channel dredge; final engineering of its site plan, and, most notably, a deep-pocketed investor/buyer.
The state Cabinet approved leasing the land for the channel dredge Tuesday, though federal questions remain. Still, one of the recommendations from the National Marine Fisheries Services of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is accounted for in the state permit — a requirement that sea grass mitigation be completed before the channel digging begins. It's a reasonable request and mirrors the mitigation strategy used for a large-scale dredging at the Port of Manatee.
The cost of the dredge falls to the unknown developer (owners Sun West Acquisitions Inc. have the property for sale) and the development order does not require digging the channel until 800 residential units have been built. In other words, things are a long way off.
SunWest Harbourtowne wants to build as many as 2,500 residences (about half of which would be time shares/vacation rentals), a golf course, hotel, shops and a marina on 2,300 acres between U.S. 19 and the Gulf of Mexico in rural Aripeka. When it was proposed five years ago, the land-use rules would have allowed as many as 3,500 homes and light industry. Also, the owners are not mandated to do reclamation work because the mining operation pre-dates such requirements. In that regard, developers tout the project as a significant improvement for the environmental landscape.
Supporters like Mariano envision it as a high-end resort surrounding five lakes carved from the mining operation that will be a tourist attraction and spur redevelopment of blue-collar Hudson. Pasco County likes it because the dredged channel to the gulf will abut a new 312-acre county park with multiple boat ramps.
As stated here previously, the enthusiasm cannot overwhelm environmental stewardship and responsible land planning. The concerns from NOAA cannot be dismissed out of hand and the county needs to ensure its role in the oversight isn't clouded by dollar signs.