Once a serene family estate, the 11.9 acres at the northwest corner of Belcher and Belleair roads has seen little development and lots of drama in recent years. A decade ago, neighbors fought a proposal to build an assisted living facility there. Then a Swiss fugitive vanished after barely breaking ground on a mega-mansion. And a couple of years ago, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said it was investigating the would-be developers of 23 posh homes there. Now the land has a new owner who says the property's luck has changed.
"I hear there was a major black cloud over it recently," said David Shtrax, 37, of Macro Investment Group LLC. "It's not going to be that way this time around."
Shtrax, whose Nevada-based company purchased the property at 2140 Belleair Road for $5.5-million in November, said he plans to develop a gated community with $2.5-million to $3.5-million homes.
The previous owner, White Star Reserve, lost possession of the property last year.
But Shtrax, a Coral Springs resident who plans to build five spec homes and sell the dozen remaining lots, said his project will be successful despite the lagging real estate market.
"I see what the future is, and I like it," he said. "I don't think higher-end real estate has been that affected."
In 1999, the property was the center of a turf battle between Largo and Clearwater. Swiss investor Jurg Weiss chose Largo and made plans for a palatial home. But those plans came to a halt when he returned to Switzerland in police custody to face a charge of embezzlement.
A few years later, business partners Torrey Cooper and Richard Truesdale announced plans to develop a luxury community called the Plantation at the site.
In 2004, a company managed by Cooper and another partner bought the property for about $1.7-million.
The next year, White Star Reserve LLC, another company managed by Cooper, took ownership of the property for $1.47-million, according to county records. The property is assessed at $1.69-million for tax purposes.
Soon the Plantation was at the center of court battles waged by contractors, creditors and vendors who said Cooper's company owed them millions of dollars.
In March 2006, one creditor, Fifth Third Bank instituted foreclosure proceedings against White Star Reserve in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court. Fifth Third Bank, which held a mortgage on the property, said White Star owed it $4.3-million.
In September 2006, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said its agents were investigating whether Cooper and Truesdale misappropriated funds from people who invested in the Plantation and a related Dunedin project called RiverWalk Townhomes.
At the time, both Cooper and Truesdale denied any wrongdoing.
In April 2007, the FDLE turned over information from its investigation - called Operation Truesdale Cooper - to the Internal Revenue Service and closed the state investigation without filing any charges, according to an FDLE report.
IRS special agent Norm Meadows said recently he could not comment on what his agency received from the FDLE or what the IRS has done with that information. He said investigative information is generally private until or unless formal charges are filed.
Cooper said Monday he's complied with requests from all regulatory agencies and the truth will eventually come out.
"I'm not aware of anything that has not been by the books," he said.
Truesdale did not return a call for comment this week.
In June 2007, the bank took possession of the Plantation property, and five months later sold it to Shtrax's company, which has started preliminary work on the site.
On Feb. 5, Largo city commissioners approved a final plat dividing the property into 17 lots.
Dirt roads weave through the Plantation site, graced by majestic oaks, young pines and rock-lined manmade streams. A fountain spouts in a 4-acre lake on the property's east side.
In recent months, McCullough Contractors has repainted the gate house a toasty brown, cleared away overgrown weeds and begun work on the sewer and water system. In a few months, while Shtrax works on designs for some of the homes, brick roads will be installed and lush landscaping will be planted, Shtrax said.
Meanwhile, a couple of neighbors say they're skeptical of the latest plan to build expensive homes there.
"With the housing market in such a slump, this isn't going to fly," said Pam Nagot, who lives just east of the property.
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Lorri Helfand can be reached at email@example.com or 445-4155.