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BRIGHT DAY FOR SUNRISE BUILDERS

The county okays a master plan for the megadevelopment.
Published Sep. 13, 2007|Updated Sep. 17, 2007

The County Commission paved the way for drastic changes to the east side of the county Wednesday, approving a master plan for a development district near Interstate 75 and the biggest project in the district, Sunrise.

The commission unanimously approved the agreement that creates Sunrise as a development of regional impact with 4,200 houses, 600 apartments, enough commercial space for two Wal-Mart Supercenters, offices, a hotel and a golf course.

If built, it will be the county's largest residential project since Royal Highlands in the 1970s.

The plan for the 4,800-acre development district south of State Road 50 and straddling the interstate uses a new concept in Hernando: higher-than-normal impact fees to pay for building a network of roads and other services in the mostly vacant area.

This district was designated for development in 1989, and the county has repeatedly been criticized for not using that intervening time to develop a thoughtful plan.

None of the critics showed up on Wednesday, though some residents said they worried about the amount of water that would be consumed by the estimated 24,000 future residents of the development district.

A lawyer for Sunrise said the master plan was an unusual example of cooperation between the county and a large number of landowners.

"This can be and should be an absolute model of long-term planning,'' said Joel Tew, the Clearwater lawyer who represented Sunrise and who helped negotiate the master plan.

In most cases, building a house in the development district will mean paying 50 percent more for road impact fees, 10 percent more for schools and 60 percent more for parks.

Sunrise will not have to pay the higher road impact fees, however, because it has agreed to make about $20-million in road improvements, including the widening of SR 50 between I-75 and Kettering Road.

The county approved this plan because it wanted Sunrise to make these improvements early in the project's construction rather than waiting for impact fees to arrive over several years, planning director Ron Pianta has said.

The state Department of Transportation also signed off on the plan, which DOT official Bob Clifford said was new for this part of Florida.

"Not only are we excited about it, we're already working with other counties to use this exact same concept,'' Clifford said.

Sunrise will contribute 55 acres for a school site, the value of which will be compensated through impact fee breaks. It must build and maintain a 20-acre community park as well as walking and cycling trails.

The commission also approved two other developments in the district, Trilby Crossing with a total of 500 houses and townhouses, and Benton Hill Estates, with 649 houses. Both will be built by Cornerstone Communities of Clearwater.

Dan DeWitt can be reached at dewitt@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6116.

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