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Proposal for homes, businesses progresses

(Ran North, South editions)

After three years of answering demands from a host of federal, state and local officials, the huge Bexley Ranch development inched closer to final approval Thursday.

The 6,872-acre project was among two major central Pasco developments on the county Development Review Committee's thick-as-a-phonebook agenda Thursday.

The meeting lasted almost four hours, even after discussions on a proposed Holiday Wal-Mart and major housing development west of U.S. 19 were pushed to future agendas.

The committee gave partial approval to the Bexley development along the Suncoast Parkway between state roads 54 and 52. Newland Communities wants to build 7,000 homes, 400,000 square feet of retail space and 250,000 square feet of office space on the former ranch.

The committee's full blessing was postponed until March 18 so the developer and state and local officials can work out the timing of road construction and the language of water-quality agreements.

"Transportation issues are not easy," said Georgianne Ratliff, a senior vice president at the project's engineering firm. "But it's just a matter of timing."

She said discussions should be done in time for a final County Commission vote on March 28.

County Administrator John Gallagher made a point of praising Newland's plans to create wildlife and park space corridors throughout the property.

"They are doing something very nice," he said. "They are giving us land they could have put houses on. Very unusual."

The committee also approved plans for another major central Pasco development: Sunlake Centre.

The 155-acre retail and residential complex is at State Road 54 and Sunlake Boulevard, east of U.S. 41. About 600 housing units, 640,000 square feet of retail and 340,000 square feet of office space are planned for the site.

It, too, will be up for final approval at the March 28 County Commission hearing.

The controversial 5,000-acre Wiregrass Ranch development in Wesley Chapel also worked its way onto the agenda.

Pasco County school officials need developer Pulte Homes to complete an extension of Mansfield Boulevard between State Road 56 and Wrencrest Boulevard before new schools open in August 2007. Joel Tew, Pulte's attorney, objected to several requirements requested by county staff members.

Pulte and the county have been deadlocked for months on traffic issues related to the proposed development of up to 16,000 homes along State Road 54.

"I think when you and I started this trip, we thought we'd be driving on this road by now," Gallagher said to Tew.

"You got that right," Tew replied.

The committee eventually approved the road extension.

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