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Developer plans 450 homes on tract

(ran East edition of Pasco Times)

Ranchers Nick and Peter Geraci have closed their biggest real estate sale in Hillsborough County, a $17.4-million deal for 450 acres east of Heritage Harbor.

The buyer, Centex Homes, plans to build some 450 houses there, ranging in price from $250,000 to $500,000 and perhaps higher, said David Ivin, the Centex division president for this region of Florida.

Centex may have bought the last big tract available to homebuilders in the N Dale Mabry Highway corridor, and the company paid a premium.

Only seven years ago, the Geraci brothers sold the 550 acres that became Heritage Harbor for $6-million.

"The market's changed in the last few years," said Ivin. "It's a beautiful piece of land. In northwest Hillsborough County, there's not a lot left, and it's a very desirable place to live."

That's underscored by the fact that the Geracis made a tentative deal with Pulte Home Corp. in June to sell another 464 acres for $21.5-million. That land is just across the Hillsborough-Pasco county line from the Centex tract. But it's approved for much denser development than the Hillsborough property. (See related story below.)

Unless plans change, the Centex project's greatest distinction may be its entrance road, which will begin at the current end of Sunlake Boulevard, which has been lined with houses for two decades.

Traffic serving more than 1,000 houses eventually may churn past the 36 front yards on Sunlake, crossing neighborhood speed humps.

Houses were acceptable on main boulevards when the Centex property originally was planned in the 1960s as Sunlake Park. That development started then fizzled after Sunlake and a cluster of four other streets were built near Lutz-Lake Fern Road. Sunlake functioned as a wide dead-end road with a median.

Pasco County wants the extension of Sunlake to be a major, multilane traffic artery connecting Dale Mabry to State Roads 54 and 52. But Hillsborough County wants to protect the current residents of Sunlake. So Sunlake is planned as two lanes in Hillsborough and eventually four lanes in Pasco.

In recent years, Hillsborough officials tried to broker a deal to reroute the Centex and Pulte traffic around Sunlake Park. But that collapsed amid flak from a variety of community groups worried about traffic implications.

Ardyth Bahr, a neighborhood leader in Sunlake Park, said she hopes Centex can be persuaded to reroute traffic before it begins construction. "You can never give up hope," she said.

Sunlake residents may take some solace in the fact that Centex's development will generate less traffic than the zoning allows.

Two corners along Centex's extension of Sunlake are zoned for stores, but Ivin said Centex wants to put a clubhouse, pool and other recreation facilities there. No golf course is planned.

Ivin also estimated that Centex's 450 lots will be about 100 fewer than what could have been built because the company wants to offer larger lots. Some sections will be gated, he said.

"We want more than one lot size there," Ivin said. "The houses sell faster if you have more variety ... We think we optimized it."

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