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Faster growth is forecast for highway intersection

For years, planners and businessmen have envisioned a new city sprouting at the crossroads of Interstate 75 and State Road 50 surrounding the two traffic arteries with shops, homes and industrial parks. The area has seen the first stirrings of commercial development: A

McDonald's restaurant recently joined the cluster of motels and gas stations at the intersection. But the larger projects, including at least three shopping centers, a Winn Dixie and an industrial park, have been slower to break ground.

That will change, say development watchers. The county's new sewage treatment plant will provide the final push for an area poised on the brink of a boom, they say.

"That will initiate the growth," said Don Lacey of Coastal Engineering Associates Inc., who has represented several developers in the area. "That whole area's going to be developing over the next 20 to 30 years."

The sewage treatment plant is one part of a $5.8-million package of improvements the county is making in the area, including road widening and water wells. The state Department of Transportation (DOT) also plans to widen a 2-mile stretch of State Road 50 on both sides of the interstate.

The $3-million sewage treatment plant will provide sewer service to nearly 4,000 homes and should be operating in about two years.

Dave Hill, a real estate broker and one of the developers of Ridge Manor West, said his office gets daily calls from developers interested in the area - and he expects that interest to pick up when the treatment plant is completed.

"There's a lot of interest," he said. But, "People don't like to be pioneers."

The section straddling I-75 from Lockhart Road east to the railroad track has been identified in the county's comprehensive plan as a special development area.

Commercial and industrial developers will be attracted to the highways, which serve as major statewide corridors. Drivers can be in Orlando or Tampa within an hour, making it an ideal location for business headquarters and distribution centers.

Those same highways will make the area ideal as a bedroom community for people who want to live in a rural area and work in the city, Lacey said.

"With I-75 and its access to the Tampa Bay area as easy as it is, it makes it a beautiful place to live," he said.

One of the developments expected to boost growth in the area is One Hernando Center, a 428-acre industrial and commerce park on SR 50 east of I-75. It was first announced in 1987. The commerce park is being developed by One Pasco Center and the Urban Rural Area Development Corp. Inc., a subsidiary of the Withlacoochee Regional Electric Cooperative (WREC).

Ernie Holzhauer, WREC spokesman, said the developers are still working on submitting a plan for a Development of Regional Impact review, a state approval process required of large developments.

"We are moving forward with that project," Holzhauer said, but he said he could not say when the project will be constructed or what size it will be.

When One Hernando Center was announced, the developers said they planned warehouses, offices and light industrial development.

Holzhauer said the new sewage plant could be a boon to the project because individual developers wouldn't have to invest in their own sewer facilities before building.

The plant is "advantageous to the proposed One Hernando Center and to that area of the county," he said.