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County wants road deal within 90 days

The County Commission on Tuesday gave landowners three months to work out a deal on building a road that is crucial to a proposal for a tennis stadium as well as traffic relief for thousands of current and future residents of Wesley Chapel.

The extension of State Road 56 became even more critical with the announcement by representatives of landowner Don Porter that Pulte Homes has signed a contract to build on half of Wiregrass Ranch. Homes on half of the ranch _ what amounts to 2,500 acres _ would create more traffic in need of an access road.

During the same meeting Tuesday at the Historic County Courthouse, the commission agreed to schedule a discussion of the tennis stadium proposal at a 6:30 p.m. Dec. 3 meeting at the West Pasco County Courthouse in New Port Richey.

At that meeting, the commission could give final approval to the proposal by Saddlebrook Resort to use tourism tax dollars to build a $5.7-million tennis stadium. But Commissioner Pete Altman said he wants the discussion to include a list of possible alternative sites, since the one eyed by Saddlebrook could be nixed unless developers reach a deal on the road.

"There is an awful lot riding on this," Commissioner Ann Hildebrand said of the building of the State Road 56 extension. "This road is extremely critical to central Pasco."

Lee Arnold and his business partner, Meadow Pointe developer Don Buck, have agreed to donate 15 acres as part of a stadium site in a future phase of their 3,500-home neighborhood. The stadium complex needs 20 acres, so the county would buy an adjoining 5 acres.

A key point is the extension of SR 56. That highway runs from Interstate 75 to Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. Arnold and Buck have agreed to bankroll an eastward extension of SR 56 to serve Meadow Pointe.

But unless Porter sells land to build the road through his 5,000-acre Wiregrass Ranch, SR 56 is going nowhere.

On Tuesday, the commission granted a development plan for Arnold and Meadow Pointe that says he doesn't have to start building the extension until after the completion of 1,747 homes. If he can't reach a deal within 90 days to get the land from Porter for the building of that road, Arnold must pay for a study on alternative routes and the impact of traffic on existing roads.

Joel Tew, attorney for Porter, told the commission that recent negotiations broke down again after his client merely asked for assurances in writing that Arnold would pay to build the road. Tew fears the highway won't be built if Meadow Pointe lots fail to sell in a worsening economic climate.

After the meeting, Tew and Porter declined to provide more details about the Pulte Homes deal. Pulte officials could not be reached for comment.

In other business Tuesday, the commission passed a groundwater protection ordinance that limits development and puts restrictions on septic tanks near certain well fields.

Also, the commission agreed to a request from Time Warner Cable to transfer its cable franchise agreement with the county to Advance/Newhouse. AOL Time Warner announced in June that the management of its cable systems would transfer to Advance/Newhouse, part of a partnership formed in 1995. AOL Time Warner has 2.1-million cable customers, including 900,000 in the Tampa Bay area. There are 70,000 in Pasco. The commission also agreed to extend that franchise renewal date to Jan. 31. It was set to expire Nov. 29.

Also, county staffers told the commission they will explore ideas to provide public bus service to Pasco-Hernando Community College's east campus in Dade City.

Before Tuesday's meeting started, Commissioners Steve Simon and Pat Mulieri were sworn in for additional four-year terms by Circuit Judge Wayne Cobb.

_ Saundra Amrhein covers Pasco County government. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6244, or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6244. Her e-mail address is amrheinsptimes.com.

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