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Land O'Lakes growing (or not)

Developers have big plans for the city, but activists have fought supermarkets and subdivisions.

Should Land O'Lakes be a bustling Tampa suburb, a leafy rural hideaway or maybe a little bit of both?

The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, working with Pasco County, hopes to spend about $25,000 on a "Land O'Lakes Community Plan" to discover the answer to that question.

A community plan in Lutz, the semi-rural Hillsborough County community south of Land O'Lakes, tries to limit the spread of the suburbs by revamping county land-use maps, a process known as downplanning.

It remains to be seen whether Pasco would put such teeth in a Land O'Lakes plan. Avera Wynne, planning director for the council, suggests that the Land O'Lakes plan be a scaled-down version of Lutz's and deal mostly with community goals and beautification.

But Wynne didn't rule out the possibility that residents, during public hearings to assemble a plan, might suggest redrawing Pasco land-use maps to limit growth.

"You never know what direction something like that may go," said Wynne, who met Thursday with County Administrator John Gallagher and County Commissioner Pat Mulieri. "Hopefully, whatever it leads to will have a pretty good consensus."

But consensus has been hard to get over the past year in Land O'Lakes. Slow-growth activists such as Citizens for Sanity have lobbied and sued to restrict construction of dense subdivisions.

Based on applications already submitted to the county, developers are proposing more than 16,000 new houses and apartments in Land O'Lakes by 2010. The population could nearly triple.

Activists most recently fought a plan for a new supermarket beside West Lake Ellis at School Road and U.S. 41.

Mulieri said the community plan proposal stemmed from strife over the supermarket, which raised the question of whether Land O'Lakes should toughen standards for development, especially along U.S. 41.

"Whatever would come of it would act as a demonstration project for the rest of the county," Mulieri said.

In addition to the Land O'Lakes plan, the regional planning council intends to commission a $65,000 study about development on State Road 54, mostly in central Pasco.

A rash of applications for new projects, including plans for 6,000 homes and a giant shopping mall between U.S. 41 and the Suncoast Parkway, promises to transform the highway from a rural thoroughfare to the county's most important economic corridor.

Wynne said the SR 54 study will look at improving, rather than eliminating, development. Some proposed strategies: requiring better landscaping, larger setbacks between buildings and the highway and efficient access roads.

"The concept is to make what's out there work as opposed to changing the development out there," Wynne said. "If development occurs, how can we make it work the best way? . . . People don't want to see another U.S. 19."

To pay for the two studies, the planning council applied for grants from the state Department of Community Affairs: $15,000 for the Land O'Lakes study and $40,000 for the SR 54 study. Pasco taxpayers would pitch in additional money for the studies.

Hearings about the Land O'Lakes community plan could begin as early as this fall.