Plan would turn former Elfers grove into residential, commercial development

Commissioner Kathryn Starkey hopes the county can acquire land on the south river bank.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey hopes the county can acquire land on the south river bank.
Published Sept. 13, 2017

ELFERS — Pasco County officials are hoping a onetime grove near the Anclote River is about to be fruitful again.

The 216 acres at the corner of State Road 54 and Madison Street near New Port Richey — land that continued to produce citrus even after the area surrounding it urbanized decades earlier — is considered a key in-fill development site in western Pasco. Last week, commissioners approved plans to turn the former grove into a neighborhood of 425 single-family homes, plus commercial and office space and 46 acres of preserve along the edge of the river.

"This is going to be a game changer,'' said Matt Armstrong, executive planner for the county's long-range planning department.

The property, now filled with pine trees, sits among residential developments of the 1970s like Colonial Hills, Tanglewood Terrace and Virginia City and is adjacent to Anclote Elementary School. The community of Elfers, an actual incorporated city from 1925 to 1933, has roughly 14,000 residents but is an area that has been void of significant private investment for decades. The annual median household income is just a little more than $33,000, or 25 percent less than the county average. Meanwhile, the area just a few miles to the east has flourished after former ranch land was developed into Trinity.

"We're just thrilled to see somebody putting good money to use in the area, and we hope it lifts all boats,'' said attorney Clarke Hobby, who represents the landowner, DCH Groves Inc., a Tampa company controlled by the family of the late citrus growers O.J. and Doris Harvey.

This isn't the first time the Harvey family has targeted the land for development. Eight years ago, the county authorized a change in its comprehensive plan to allow more than 1,000 residences, mostly apartments, plus commercial and light industrial space.

That plan drew objections from Pinellas County environmentalists, who feared the development could taint the Anclote River. Likewise, the city of Tarpons Springs urged Pasco to "ensure, at a minimum, that water quality is not degraded and ideally, that water quality is improved with this and future developments.''

Businessman Lux DeVoid, who lived in Holiday at the time and owned two vacant lots on the south side of the river, challenged state approval of the amended comprehensive plan. The sides settled, with the county agreeing to require extra river protections.

DeVoid, who now lives in Temple Terrace and owns the Mermaid Tavern in Tampa's Seminole Heights neighborhood, said last week he was unaware the project was again proceeding.

"It's good to hear there's no industrial. I think that was the biggest concern of all because of the runoff,'' he said.

There has been no opposition this time around, with the only comment during a commission public hearing coming from Kelly Miller, president of the neighboring Colonial Hills Civic Association.

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"They did a very, very remarkable job in bringing this new infrastructure to west Pasco,'' Miller told commissioners.

It also could open the door for eco-tourism and recreational possibilities because the preserved land along the river could become a county park. Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said she hoped the county could someday acquire the property on the south side of the river, too, to create a kayak launching site and other public amenities.