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Developers join land use fight

They say a lawsuit filed by an environmental group will rob property owners of their rights to develop.

Peter and Nick Geraci, developers who own 800 acres near Land O'Lakes, have joined Pasco County in fighting a legal challenge to the county's comprehensive land-use plan.

Peter Geraci said the suit filed by Citizens for Sanity asking for stricter controls on growth in Pasco is designed to rob property owners of their right to develop.

Citizens for Sanity and its allies, St. Petersburg environmental lawyer Tom Reese and the Sierra Club, are asking the state Department of Community Affairs to overturn part of the Pasco plan.

They insist the plan, first adopted in 1989, promotes overdevelopment and urban sprawl and insufficiently protects wildlife and groundwater.

Geraci said Reese has opposed every development his family has ever proposed. The latest lawsuit against Pasco's plan is just a way to harass county planners and land developers, he said.

"My family has owned this property since the mid-'30s," Geraci said. "It's mine. It doesn't belong to Tom Reese. It doesn't belong to the Sierra Club."

Citizens for Sanity formed last summer to challenge a proposed 1,200-home development in Land O'Lakes called Oakstead. From there, they branched out to overturn what they considered the root of overdevelopment in Pasco: the comprehensive plan.

Reese said the Geracis' joining the fray could weaken Pasco's case. The attorney representing the Geracis is Ben Harrill, once the county attorney.

"It's happened to me in a lot of cases. It never makes any difference," Reese said of developers intervening in lawsuits. "In fact, I think it embarrasses local governments."

A hearing before an administrative law judge is scheduled for the week of April 10 at New Port Richey City Hall.

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