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Engineers list 4 sites for PHCC campus

Their recommendations are only preliminary, but 49 acres at the Suncoast Parkway and Powell Road come in first.

A 49-acre plot off the Suncoast Parkway is now the apparent front-runner in the two-year search for Pasco-Hernando County College's new Spring Hill campus.

A Coral Gables engineering firm made its top four recommendations to the college's Board of Trustees on Tuesday after a month of research, citing high visibility, central location and reasonable purchase price as reasons the previously rejected site at Powell Road and the parkway came in first.

However, the presentation was only preliminary, officials cautioned. Harper Partners, which was hired in April for more than $65,000 in response to complaints that an earlier selection committee was short on expertise and long on politics, will make its final recommendation at the board's July 18 meeting after more detailed study.

"I think it's too early to really comment" on the rankings, PHCC President Robert Judson said. "But I think we've set up a good process."

In its recommendation, the firm selected the County Line Road site that was nearly selected in 1998 as its No. 2 pick. Third was the Hernando County Airport Business Park site, which has been heavily lobbied for by county and state officials. A site off Commercial Way overlooking Hunter's Lake came in fourth.

Harper officials did not return phone calls for comment, but PHCC Provost Burt Harres explained the reasons that the firm gave at the Dade City meeting for its selections.

Harres said that while the Suncoast property was favored for its location and resonable purchase price of $750,000, firm officials listed its single frontage road, lack of direct access to the parkway and area power lines among its detractions.

The County Line Road site, just east of Mariner Boulevard and west of the Suncoast Parkway, has easily developed open land and a reasonable purchase price of $850,000 in its favor, Harres said. On the negative side, it also has only one frontage road, its main road is not scheduled to be widened for the next 20 years, and it lacks a sewer system.

As for the airport land, it has four access points, and the lowest purchase price, $450,000, going for it. On the negative side, he said, it is in a business-industrial area that has noise and safety concerns.

And finally, the Commercial Way site has "beautiful land," available utilities and a resonable price as positives, he said. Yet the land is not very visible, is adjacent to commercial business and is located in the westernmost part of Spring Hill.

Trustees declined to comment on the recommendation. But it has already raised a few eyebrows among area real estate agents.

Gary Schraut, a member of the Aviation Authority who is also representing the Commercial Way site, said he was excited to see both of his properties made the cut. But he added that he hoped further research would help the private firm realize some of the serious road problems facing some of the other plots.

"Harper is going to have to do a lot more work now," he said. "They're going to have to look at the existing roadways and infrastructure."

Judson, however, dismissed concerns that the County Line Road site would be doomed because of no plans to widen it for the next 20 years or the lack of existing sewer systems. He said growth created by the opening of the parkway would likely cause local governments to alter their development timetables in time for the campus' future development.

Among the sites dropped from consideration by the firm was a 55.5-acre property on the west side of Anderson Snow Road about 2 miles north of County Line Road, a 40-acre site on the west side of Landover Boulevard just west of Mariner Boulevard, and another location off Cortez Boulevard east of Brooksville near Griffin Road. Judson said the Anderson Snow and Landover sites were disqualified because of their high prices, and the Brooksville site because of its distance from Spring Hill. High cost also caused the firm to dismiss the idea that the current location off Spring Hill Drive near Mariner Boulevard could be expanded to accommodate growth.

Trustees are expected to make a final site selection at their July meeting. For the past two years officials have argued over the location, at one point investing $35,000 in the County Line Road site only to pull out of buying it at the last minute.

"We're going to make a decision this time," Judson said, "and we're going to stick with it."