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Planners reverse opinion on mall

The agency that oversees long-range planning and development in Hillsborough County has changed its mind about a disputed regional mall proposed for N Dale Mabry Highway.

Advance Leasing of Port Richey's 1.3-million-square-foot project has not met conditions set when the plans were tentatively approved by the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission, an official says.

"Basically, we're concerned about the impact on wetlands," said Ray Chiarmonte, director of comprehensive planning and community development for the panel.

"The other issue is, we are concerned about the parcels separated from the parent tract that leave open the possibility for strip commercialization to occur."

Five acres of wetlands in the middle of the 193-acre mall site, at the northeast corner of Dale Mabry and Van Dyke Road, would have to be destroyed if the mall is built.

The planning commission, which is looking at the project again because the developer altered its plans to satisfy residents of the Lutz community and county planners, cannot support the project unless the developer can preserve the wetlands or the Environmental Protection Commission agrees to let the developer replace it, Chiarmonte explained.

As for the separate parcel, planning officials fear that because it is not part of the current rezoning petition it could be developed later and cause traffic and other problems.

Lawyer Rhea Law, who represents Advance Leasing, said the developer is well on the way to resolving the planning commission's concerns. The developer is seeking EPC approval for a mitigation plan for the 5-acre wetland, she said, and it hopes to file a rezoning request with the county for the outparcel this week.

The outparcel is between the Calusa Trace subdivision and Van Dyke on Dale Mabry, Law said. Planning for the outparcel will be coordinated with work on the mall, she said.

Law said she was not discouraged by the planning commission's report. "I think what they really wanted to do was make sure we follow through on these conditions."

Dave Bortness, president of the Lutz Civic Association, which has opposed the mall project, said he was pleased with the planning commission report.

"I think it's a big thing, there's no doubt about it," Bortness said. "I think they are being very professional and very gutsy in saying these people have not compromised at all in terms of their intensity. The project is just too intense."

The proposal also is awaiting recommendations from the county's Planning and Development Management Department staff and a zoning hearing master before it is voted on by the County Commission. A public hearing before the zoning hearing master is scheduled for June 29.