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County line changes your view of development

County Line Road is the battle line in a clash of two development philosophies.

On the one side, you have the southern Pasco County communities of Land O'Lakes and Wesley Chapel.

These are communities where developers want to build more than 35,000 homes in the next 20 years. Where asphalt with yellow-stripe topping is the flavor of the month. Where shopping center developers sniff the air and smell greenbacks.

On the other side you have the northern Hillsborough County communities of Lutz, Odessa and Keystone.

These are communities where people fight to restore old schoolhouses and train depots. Where antiquated two-lane roads are revered. Where a county commissioner who supported highway expansion was lampooned in a drawing, hanging from a noose.

In theory, agencies such as the state Department of Community Affairs and the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council are supposed to ensure development on one side of the border jibes with the other. In practice, developers have made mincemeat of the theory.

In south Pasco, developers routinely rezone cattle pastures and orange groves for high-density subdivisions. With scarcely a whiff of complaint from residents, State Road 54 will grow from two to as many as six lanes.

Compared with south Pasco, Lutz, a mere skip across County Line Road, is a model of rusticity.

Neighbors fought off plans to build a high school on Livingston Road. They agonize over a proposed Publix supermarket on Lutz-Lake Fern Road. They fight to ban walled communities.

Housing growth is limited by the scarcity of water and sewer lines and the support for community plans for Lutz and Keystone that limit high-density subdivisions.

"We know Keystone, Odessa and Lutz are going to grow," said Lorraine Duffy, senior planning manager in Hillsborough. "But we're trying to control how it's going to grow. It's not going to grow like Pasco, Carrollwood or Brandon."

As a result, cross-border skirmishing has been rife. The two counties often talk across a chasm of mutually exclusive goals: Pasco's to encourage development to boost its tax base, Hillsborough's to control development to save a relatively unspoiled nook of the county.

A common complaint in Pasco _ understandable in some cases _ is that Hillsborough is trying to slam shut the kitchen door after they've had their fill of the larder.

About 10 years ago, when Pasco considered approving the massive Trinity development in the southwestern part of the county, Hillsborough sent representatives north of the border to object.

The two county governments have also clashed over Pasco's extension of County Line Road between U.S. 41 and Collier Parkway, which Hillsborough neighbors insist will spoil Lutz.

Most recently, Hillsborough officials criticized Long Lake Ranch, a plan to build a 1,900-home neighborhood and shopping mall right across the Hillsborough line in Pasco.

Duffy admits Lutz will face constant pressure from developers based upon what's happening across the line in Pasco.

But if neighbors want to take a tough line on preservation, they'll have the backing of the Hillsborough government. Lutz would essentially become a historical and environmental enclave between booming Carrollwood and booming Land O'Lakes.

As a possible role model for Lutz, Duffy points to Brooker Creek Preserve in northern Pinellas County, a park that has retained its integrity despite development pressure from all sides.

But some observers north of the border doubt communities can buck growth patterns forever.

"You can't live next to a major metropolitan area and not be affected by growth," says Land O'Lakes development attorney Tim Hayes. "It's inevitable."

That's news to Gaye Townsend, a Lutz activist who knocks Hayes for not caring enough about the Hillsborough communities over the border.

"Hillsborough has extended the olive branch more than once," Townsend says. "Pasco ignores it."

Don't expect the cross-county sniping to end anytime soon.