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County eases land use frictions

The county smooths out objections to settlement of a lawsuit, reducing the chance of a development moratorium.

The threat of a moratorium on new development in Pasco County appears to be fading.

County Attorney Robert Sumner on Monday said he plans to delay for another week his recommendation that county commissioners withhold approval of larger developments until a lawsuit challenging the county's land use plan is settled.

The county already has signed an agreement with the original plaintiffs, the slow-growth advocacy group Citizens for Sanity. But the county is waiting for a handful of developers who later signed onto the litigation to sign off.

One of them has filed a motion to withdraw from the suit and another is waiting to see what happens before moving forward, Sumner said.

"The objectors are withdrawing their objections," Sumner added.

Those objectors, including the JDI Land Trust, the Geraci family and George M. "Bud" Brown, have said through their attorneys that they are afraid they will give up their future rights to challenge amendments to the county's comprehensive plan if they sign the settlement. They want assurance from a judge that those rights are preserved before they sign, JDI attorney Joel R. Tew said last week.

Attorney Ben Harrill, who represents the Geracis and Brown, said he hasn't had a chance to talk to all of his clients yet but expects that eventually they will withdraw from the case.

Tew's firm filed the motion to withdraw, which includes a clause saying JDI retains its right to challenge future land use plan amendments that the county agreed to as part of its settlement with Citizens for Sanity. The County Commission ratified that agreement last week.

Sumner thinks the developers' rights already are preserved. And to accelerate the settlement process, he has urged county commissioners to consider holding off on deciding whether new developments are feasible under the county's comprehensive plan until the litigation is settled. The county is required by law to update its comprehensive plan, but the version it's using dates to 1989.

County development officials refused to say how many developments could be affected by the proposed moratorium, citing the pending litigation.

County commissioners appeared ready last week to approve a moratorium, with County Commission chairwoman Pat Mulieri saying the county was "being held hostage" until the developers signed.

_ Alisa Ulferts covers Pasco County government. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6244 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6244. Her e-mail address is ulfertssptimes.com.

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