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Pulte pulls in prize housing development

(ran East edition of Pasco Times)

Pulte Homes, which has its hands in several housing developments in Pasco County, has reached into one of the biggest cookie jars of all: A 1,079-acre project called Long Lake Ranch.

The Michigan-based housing developer has agreed to buy 464 acres of the ranch south of State Road 54 to build what could be 670 houses and 400 townhomes or villas.

The purchase price, finalized in May with ranch owners Nick and Peter Geraci, is $21.5-million, or $46,293 an acre.

Pulte didn't return a call from the St. Petersburg Times on Friday, but the purchase agreement appeared in publicly available court records obtained by the newspaper.

Pulte is among the biggest of Pasco builders. Its best-known project is the Lexington Oaks golf course community west of Interstate 75 in Wesley Chapel.

The company also has agreed to build what could be thousands of homes in Wesley Chapel as part of the Wiregrass Ranch project northeast of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and State Road 56.

Pulte's houses and townhomes also fill sections of such large neighborhoods as Meadow Pointe and Oakstead.

In a county succumbing to suburbanization, Long Lake Ranch is major player.

The Geracis spent years getting the project approved for their ranch, a dumbbell-shaped piece of land about a mile west of U.S. 41.

Prospective development there includes more than 1,400 homes, 2-million square feet of stores and businesses, and 300,000 square feet of offices.

A new road called Sunlake Boulevard, eventually four lanes, will cross the property from SR 54 south to Hillsborough County and Dale Mabry Highway.

It would offer a second outlet for Long Lake traffic that otherwise would spill onto SR 54. The project's homes and businesses are expected to generate thousands of daily car trips.

Pulte's sales agreement gave no indication of when the company would start construction, but county officials have said groundbreaking could happen within months.

Homes in Long Lake Ranch would be among the more than 15,000 homes proposed for the SR 54 corridor between U.S. 41 and the Suncoast Parkway.