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Resort opposes new car dealership

Saddlebrook Resort, which draws thousands of tennis players and golfers to Wesley Chapel, insists a new auto dealership would "trash" its entrance to the detriment of tourism in Pasco County.

Saddlebrook owner Tom Dempsey is battling a neighbor's plan to rezone land opposite the resort on State Road 54 for what probably will be a Nissan dealership.

Dempsey said dealerships' fluttering promotional banners and monotonous rows of parked cars detract from the lushly landscaped and fountained entrance he created at huge expense on SR 54.

The Nissan dealership would create a circus and spoil the first impression of corporate clients eyeballing Saddlebrook as a possible conference and convention site, Dempsey said.

Two other dealerships, Century Kia and Heritage Ford, set up shop in recent years diagonally across from Saddlebrook. But Nissan would be right on the resort's doorstep.

"There are other places to go. This is not automobile row," Dempsey said Tuesday.

Dempsey assumed a Toyota dealership would buy the parcel across from Saddlebrook owned by Gotthold Gerber. Out of courtesy for Saddlebrook, Toyota officials met with Dempsey last year.

But Toyota executive Kevin Sreenan said his company dropped the site, and Dempsey's opposition figured in the decision. That's when Nissan apparently scooped up the site, although company representatives couldn't be reached Tuesday.

"From what I understand, they're going there. I'm almost certain of it," Sreenan said of Nissan.

Gerber's rezoning application is up before the county Planning Commission at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 11 at the West Pasco Government Center in New Port Richey. County commissioners are scheduled to hear the case at 6:30 p.m., Feb. 24, in Dade City.

Dempsey plans to argue his case at the hearings, supported by homeowners associations representing hundreds of house and condominium owners in Saddlebrook.

The land is zoned for low-density residential. Dempsey insists commercializing the site "destroys the integrity" of an area that's best suited to homes.

"Let's not turn this part of SR 54 into another U.S. 19 or International Drive in Orlando," Dempsey said in a letter to the county's zoning department.

"No more new car dealerships here."

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