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Housing demand pushing eastward

Want a sign that the suburban housing boom is about to breach the boundary of Wesley Chapel and Zephyrhills?

A Zephyrhills farming family, Neil and Rita Rucks, has a deal to sell 284 acres on U.S. 301 and 267 acres on Buchman Highway for the development of up to 880 homes.

Such is the demand for houses in Pasco County _ the county set a record for housing starts in 2003 with 5,883 _ that even land neglected in the first few rounds of development is getting scarfed up.

In the case of the Ruckses, the buyer is Tampa developer Bob Gagne, operating under the name Woodshed Development Corp. Gagne also proposes 440,000 square feet of stores and businesses.

The property has what some might consider to be drawbacks. The Buchman site's eastern boundary is railroad tracks belonging to CSX Corp. The U.S. 301 piece is close to Zephyrhills Correctional Institution and Zephyrhills Festival Park.

The first houses 600 minimum and medium security prisoners. The second is host site for the yearly Livestock outdoor rock extravaganza, known for its rowdy, drunken crowds.

For rezoning purposes, the two Rucks properties are considered separate developments, though they sit about half a mile apart.

This year, Zephyrhills plans to annex the 267 acres off Buchman Highway. If the city approves the rezoning, it would provide water and sewer service.

"It's close to our utilities. It's contiguous. It appears to make good sense to annex it," Zephyrhills planning director Todd Vande Berg said.

The U.S. 301 development will likely stay in unincorporated Pasco. Gagne filed the rezoning application with the county and assumes Pasco water will supply the site.

Homes would require two future entrances on U.S. 301 and sever existing Crystal Springs Road, according to rezoning maps. The north branch of the Hillsborough River nicks the property's northeast corner.

"We had an initial meeting with them about annexation, but the county already has utilities out there so it may make more sense for them to remain in the county," Vande Berg said.

The two rezoning applications gave no timeline for construction, and Gagne couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday.

Gagne used to be a Carrollwood-area Checkers fast-food franchisee. His real estate projects include Wellington Manors, a development in Lutz where homes sell for more than $300,000.

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