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Commission rezones airport

Tampa Bay Executive Airport's runway days are coming to a close, but developers' plans for a business park on the property are taking off.

The Pasco County Commission agreed Tuesday night to rezone the 73.4-acre airport on State Road 54 from agricultural to light industrial use. The Odessa airport is owned by Dr. James P. Gills, who plans to sell it to developers who want to build a 400,000-square-foot complex with offices, warehouses, storage areas or manufacturing facilities.

It was a bittersweet moment for commissioners: The county has long struggled to develop more industrial sites and business centers, but commissioners hated to lose an airport used by about 100 leisure pilots and businesses.

"We will welcome the industry and commerce we've been striving to get, and we'll shed a tear for the conveniences of the past," Commission Chairman Peter Altman said at the meeting at the West Pasco Government Center in New Port Richey.

Representatives for the airport announced in May they would close the facility Oct. 1, as homes and industrial parks now surround the once-rural airstrip. But it could take about two years for the business park to emerge.

Several homeowners in the nearby communities of Fox Wood and Heritage Springs wrote letters to the county objecting to the rezoning. Some feared an industrial designation could pave the way for cement plants or X-rated businesses.

But the site's light industrial zoning doesn't allow for either _ those uses are limited to heavier industrial districts, county zoning administrator Debra Zampetti said.

Gills got the commission's approval on a separate matter Tuesday night: The county approved his plans for 850 homes at Edward's Grove, a 543-acre development in Gowers Corner. The property is north of State Road 52 and west of U.S. 41.

Last November, commissioners approved 700 homes for that same tract _ fewer than the 1,144 homes Gills asked for but more than the 500 homes the county's staff reluctantly recommended. Gills then sued the county, arguing the 700 figure was arbitrary.

The deal approved Tuesday gives Gills 150 more homes but gives the county more say in the design by making the project a master-planned unit development district. Gills agreed, in turn, to drop the lawsuit.

Bridget Hall Grumet 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 bhallsptimes.com.

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