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Planners reject bid for a gated golfing community

(ran PW, PS editions of Pasco Times)

Concerns over wetlands and sinkholes guide the 3-2 vote against the 600-acre proposal. But the County Commission will have the final say.

A Panhandle developer's efforts to build a new gated golf course community on U.S. 41 hit a snag Monday when the Planning and Zoning Commission rejected the project by a 3-2 vote.

Commissioners said they were concerned that the property not only has several wetland areas but possibly at least three active sinkholes. If the proposed housing development were built, pesticides and fertilizers from yards and the 18-hole golf course might run into the sinkholes and make their way into the aquifer, commissioners said.

"Basically the whole area is a wetland," said Commissioner Al Sevier, who voted against the project.

The proposed 600-acre community would sit on the northwest corner of U.S. 41 and Powell Road. Its developer, CSL Development Corp. of Pensacola, said the community would be similar to Silverthorn Country Club and would include an 18-hole golf course.

The developers said the property has only about 30 acres of wetlands. However, they acknowledge that the site has presented an engineering challenge.

Roads and homes and several areas of the project would have to be brought up to the 100-year flood stage, and there is still an undetermined number of sinkholes on the property to design around, said Don Lacey of Coastal Engineering Associates.

"It's obviously an engineering exercise to meld these natural features and the development together," Lacey said. However, the site's natural beauty and proximity to U.S. 41 and the upcoming Suncoast Parkway make the development very attractive, he said. "We think the location is excellent."

Much of the property now is zoned for agriculture. Neighbors are worried that if the development is built, new homeowners might complain about nearby chicken farms and the use of chicken manure.

"I hope you address the farming activity going on here," said Bill Sellers, whose family has been in the county since the 1930s. "Development seems to push (agriculture) out."

While planning and zoning commissioners voted to deny a zoning change for the property, the county staff has expressed its approval of the project. The final decision is with the County Commission, which is scheduled to hear the issue Sept. 7.