A Tampa developer has submitted plans to build the county's largest subdivision in more than 30 years: a total of 4,800 housing units flanking the east side of Interstate 75.
About 1,600 of those dwellings would be in apartment buildings or townhouses, according to the proposal. The project would also include 70,000 square feet of office space and 430,000 square feet of retail space, the equivalent of about three Wal-Mart Supercenters.
Sunrise, as the project is tentatively called, would be the largest development in Hernando since the 19,000-lot Royal Highlands subdivision in northwest Hernando in 1970, county planners said.
It is the most ambitious proposal the county has received since Oak Sound, a subdivision that was to include 6,000 houses and a mall on what is now the site of the Weekiwachee Preserve.
Even though the county has long expected development in the I-75/State Road 50 area, Sunrise presents a huge planning challenge to the county _ partly because the proposed development is far denser than expected.
"It seems like an awful lot of people," said County Commissioner Chris Kingsley.
The land is on 1,386 acres, south of SR 50, behind the Sunrise Plaza shopping center. Brooksville banker Jim Kimbrough said he signed a contract to sell the land about two months ago.
Kingsley, as well as several government planners, said they were pleased about one aspect of the project: It was submitted as a development of regional impact, which will subject it to the scrutiny of the state and nearby counties, in addition to local officials.
Other developers have been criticized for skirting the DRI requirements _ which apply to subdivisions of 1,000 houses and larger _ by developing land in smaller parcels.
"Somebody is doing the right thing. Instead of doing 999 (houses), they are going through the process and doing it right," said Bruce Day, director of the Withlacoochee Regional Planning Council.
Day's Ocala organization will coordinate the review process, which starts with a meeting of the developer and county planners next week, and will probably eventually include representatives from Pasco and Sumter counties.
"It allows them to have a seat at the table," Day said.
The proposal _ from Professional Land Development LLC _ will also need to pass the review of the state Department of Community Affairs, even if it does not require a change to the county's comprehensive plan.
The company listed a Tampa address on the documents submitted to the county; the firm's listed contact, Gregory Bennett, is involved in the 6,700-unit Cannon Ranch development near San Antonio, in Pasco County, with the owner of the Saddlebrook resort.
Neither Bennett nor Don Lacey of Coastal Engineering Associates in Brooksville, who helped prepare the plans, could be reached for comment Thursday, though Lacey's proposal stated the project would not need a comprehensive plan review.
It may not, said Jerry Greif, the county's chief planner, because it is part of a 4,800-acre block of land on either side of I-75 and south of SR 50 that was designated in the comprehensive plan as a planned development district 15 years ago, partly at the request of Kimbrough.
The county has built a sewage treatment plant and a water tower to serve the development district, which calls for a mix of industrial, commercial and residential development.
But the plant might not be adequate to handle the population in the district, which now looks as if it may be two or three times the total anticipated, said Paul Wieczorek, the county's concurrency coordinator.
When the comprehensive plan was last updated seven years ago, the county expected more interest in industrial development along the I-75 corridor. Partly for that reason, the county expected only 6,600 houses in the entire development district.
But most of the inquiries for property have been from residential developers. The county previously received another proposal to build nearly 800 houses on a nearby parcel. That means the county has proposals for 5,600 units of housing on slightly more than one-third of the district's acreage.
It also means the county may have to push for improvements to nearby roads, including SR 50, and find ways to set aside land for industry, Wieczorek said.
"We have to be looking out for the county's long-term interests, for job creation and tax base," he said.
The best solution to those problems may be to complete a master plan for the development district, which is called for in the county's comprehensive plan.
Len Tria, who served as a county commissioner in the 1980s and is now monitoring government planning on behalf of three local business groups, said the development district was created even before the first comprehensive plan was approved in 1990.
"We always wanted to have a mix of homes and commercial and industrial," Tria said.
"There hasn't been any more defined work done on it since, and there's a lot more work that needs to be done."
Dan DeWitt can be reached at (352) 754-6116 or dewittsptimes.com.
BY THE NUMBERS
Single-family houses 3,200
Multifamily units 1,600
Acres in development 1,386
Square feet of retail space 430,000
Square feet of office space 70,000