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Protesters to picket at polite Tampa Palms

In the Republican enclave of Tampa Palms, where business is done at the country club and disagreements are vented at pool side, local environmentalists plan to line a street Saturday in a 1960s-style protest.

The group will picket Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. outside the newest subdivision built by Lennar Homes in Tampa Palms. The Florida Consumer Action Network plans to protest every Saturday for several weeks at Remington at Tampa Palms, a subdivision near USAA corporate headquarters.

They will carry signs that say: "Animals Need Homes Too" and "Don't Pave Paradise."

The group wants Lennar to preserve about 1,200 acres of environmentally sensitive land in Tampa Palms. The company plans to build 1,194 homes on the property.

"We want to get our message across to people who are coming to look at model homes that the environment is in danger," said Bill Newton, staff director of FCAN.

Newton spoke about the issue Wednesday on a public affairs program on WMNF-FM 88.5.

FCAN wants the Miami-based builder to sell its land for $3.8-million to an environmental preservation program. Lennar has said it will sell the property, but wants about $6.4-million, or about $20,000 an acre. It bought the land six years ago for less than $2,000 an acre.

Since then, the city of Tampa has moved to help build a major road across the area, called the Cypress Creek Preserve. The city wants the road to connect subdivisions in New Tampa to Interstate 275.

This week, Lennar also asked the Tampa City Council to annex 376 acres now in Hillsborough County into the city. The move might weaken environmental protections on the land.

"People are really concerned about the environment in Tampa Palms and New Tampa," Newton said. "Most people moved out here because of the quality of the environment. They have been supporting us."

The group said hundreds of residents in New Tampa signed petitions to preserve the land. Scores wrote letters to City Hall.

Even so, some residents say Tampa Palms does not take well to protests. They prefer paperwork to pickets.

"I think they will probably be largely ignored," said Shawn Harrison, chairman of the Tampa Palms taxing district. "This is not a surprise if they are trying to attract attention to their cause."

Frank Margarella, president of the New Tampa Community Council, blames the environmental group for not buying the preserve six years ago, when Lennar did.

"I think they are being unreasonable," he said of the protesters. "And it's acting after the fact."

"I just think the folks in Tampa Palms will not appreciate their way of drawing attention to the situation," he said. "The Tampa Palms ilk generally act in a more business-like manner."