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Breaking ground, then a break

Wiregrass Ranch plans to hold a groundbreaking ceremony for the residential portion of its 5,100-acre development at 10 a.m. Dec. 13 - although final approval for the project could be weeks or months away.

Invitations from the developer, Pulte Homes, were sent to County Administrator John Gallagher and the county growth management office, among others.

The ceremonial shovel would hit dirt before Pasco County holds a public hearing on Wiregrass' "development of regional impact" designation, which must be issued before construction can begin.

Pasco had scheduled a hearing for Dec. 19, but county officials said that hearing might be delayed - perhaps as late as March - so planners can have more time to review the final paperwork.

Pulte Homes officials did not return a call for comment Tuesday.

Crews are allowed to do site preparation work, such as grading and debris removal, but can't start building without the development of regional impact approval.

Staff members of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council have recommended approval for the development, and the council is expected to give its blessing Monday. After that, the regulatory ball falls into the county's court, because it is the county that must issue the final development order.

Pulte is slated to build 8,500 single-family homes, 4,000 multifamily homes, 2.7-million square feet of stores and 1.2-million square feet of offices for completion by 2016. More multifamily units might follow depending on future regulatory approvals.

Pulte's groundbreaking is for the residential component of Wiregrass and is not linked to the $105-million Shops at Wiregrass, said Leslie Resnick, a spokeswoman for the mall.

In November, Jim Richardson, vice president of Forest City Commercial Group, which is co-developing the Shops at Wiregrass, said he wants to break ground on the mall as early as possible in 2007.

The mall's developers, which also include the Goodman Co., hope construction will start in the spring.

That's also when Pulte plans to start building the extension of State Road 56, a critical road for the mall, Wiregrass' homes, and neighbors nervous about the additional traffic.

Chuin-Wei Yap covers growth and development. He can be reached at (813) 909-4613 or cyap@sptimes.com.

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