Homebuilder Taylor Morrison can keep developing a 194-home project in Keystone, but can’t sell individual lots to homebuyers until a court challenge is settled, a Hillsborough Circuit Court judge ruled Friday.
The written ruling from Judge Mark R. Wolfe followed a four-hour hearing on Jan. 18 in which area residents asked for an emergency injunction to halt the Taylor Morrison development between Patterson and McGlamery roads.
“The sale of homes to third parties ... would not be in the public’s best interest because the homes may be required to be demolished at the conclusion of the case,” Wolfe ruled.
The area of Keystone/Odessa in rural northwest Hillsborough is covered by a county-approved overlay district limiting home density to one home per 5 acres. Taylor Morrison plans 194 homes on just more than 200 acres it purchased in 2021, saying the zoning entitlements granted in the 1990s predate the rural protections adopted in 2002.
The residents sued Hillsborough County, contending the project violated the county’s own land use rules. They wanted construction stopped. Taylor Morrison joined the suit and its attorneys provided lead counsel during the Jan. 18 hearing.
During that hearing, Andrew Miller, vice president for land development at Taylor Morrison, said the company had invested $35 million in the project so far. He said grading and earthwork on the first phase is nearly complete and the company aimed to sell homes by the end of the year.
A stop-work order would cost the company $65,000 to remove heavy construction equipment from the site, $370,000 in monthly labor and other costs and $350,000 in monthly interest, he testified.
Wolf’s ruling noted that since construction has been ongoing since spring 2022 the damage the residents tried to prevent has occurred already. However, if they prevail at trial, state law allows a judge to order the development removed.
He barred Taylor Morrison from selling homes and lots on the property prior to resolving the case because “the court would likely be unable to order removal of development and construction on the non-party’s real property. Thus, plaintiffs would not have an adequate remedy at law to address the harm if they prevail.”
Wolfe’s ruling also noted the testimony from residents and stop-work order from Hillsborough County surrounding illegal tree removal from the site before the county issued a development order in May 2022.
That suggests Taylor Morrison “acted in violation of permits and ordinances in its pursuit of speedy development of the property. Plaintiffs, therefore, have established through evidence that they would be irreparably harmed and without an adequate remedy at law if Taylor Morrison were allowed to sell, convey, or otherwise transfer all or some of the property.”
Wolfe ordered nonbinding arbitration to try to resolve the case.
“We never said you can’t build in Keystone,” said Melissa Nordbeck, one of the lead plaintiffs. “Our position since the very beginning of this assault on our community was you have to build (according to county rules and the Keystone community plan) — an added layer of protection for our 36 miles of rural and agriculture land that is intended to preserve our chosen way of life.”