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Business activity races ahead on U.S. 41

The commercial plans range from a medical office park to a local bakery
Proposed business development along Land O' Lakes Boulevard (U.S. 41)  is flourishing ahead of the state Department of Transportation's plan to widen the highway from two to four lanes from Connerton north to State Road 52.
Proposed business development along Land O' Lakes Boulevard (U.S. 41) is flourishing ahead of the state Department of Transportation's plan to widen the highway from two to four lanes from Connerton north to State Road 52. [ C.T. BOWEN | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Oct. 29, 2019

LAND O’ LAKES — Xavier Vital knew what he wanted as he prepared to move his Bakery X business from the online market to a bricks-and-mortar storefront.

“There’s a lot of new construction around and a lot of communities with people who don’t have access to coffee shops or bakeries with pastries, authentic pastries and breads, so they just buy at the grocery,’’ said Vital of Land O’ Lakes. “Our goal is to sell the local community products they can’t find anywhere else. This location is exactly what we’re looking for.’’

The location is on U.S. 41, also known as Land O’ Lakes Boulevard, in a plaza that is not yet built.

Vital’s faith is familiar along the central Pasco highway. While transportation and beautification plans for Land O’ Lakes Boulevard move forward, property owners on the route aren’t waiting for the new asphalt or crepe myrtles to materialize. They’re advancing proposals for infill development along the north-south road that is the spine of the Land O’ Lakes community.

The flurry of planned commercial activity ranges from a four-building office park south of State Road 54 to Vital’s Bakery X in Strategic Properties Group’s Land O’ Lakes Landings, a 13,600-square-foot retail and restaurant center planned for a mile south of State Road 52.

“That’s what people have been asking for. The want additional options so you don’t have to go drive everywhere,’’ said Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore.

You can point to a lot of explanations for the growth. For starters, an improved transportation network is looming with the widening of U.S. 41 from Connerton Boulevard north to SR 52. It is planned to start in 2020. And the accompanying widening of SR 52 and rebuilt intersection where the two roads meet are intended to end the daily northbound bottleneck on Land O’ Lakes Boulevard.

The heavy equipment visible now on the highway’s edge is part of an ongoing $2.5 million repaving of a southern portion of U.S. 41. It also includes adding sidewalks on the west side of the road from Bambi Circle to Gator Lane and extending the bicycle and pedestrian path on the route’s east side between Caliente Boulevard and Tower Road.

To aid aesthetic appeal, state Rep. Ardian Zika, R-Land O’ Lakes, again is seeking $1 million from the state to landscape the highway’s median. Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed a similar appropriation earlier this year.

A separate highway project also is stimulating business investment. Pasco County officials are confident of obtaining a federal environmental permit shortly to extend Ridge Road eastward from its terminus at Ridge Road to the Suncoast Parkway and on to U.S. 41 at Connerton Boulevard.

Another growth trigger is the real estate adage of location, location, location. There is an ongoing residential and business development boom along SR 54 and State Road 56, but that east-west corridor through the county’s southern tier is running out of empty space. The development activity now is turning northward.

Likewise, the residential housing market along northern Land O’ Lakes Boulevard continues to prosper. Lennar is acquiring all of the remaining property within Connerton, Ryan Homes is building Cypress Preserve and construction continues within Lakeshore Ranch. Additional housing developments are proposed for Little Lake Thomas Road and near Wisteria Loop, both west of the highway.

So businesses want to capitalize on more people, more vehicles and easier transportation. Here is a sample:

A developer has filed preliminary plans to build medical offices in a four-building office park totaling 11,400 square feet on the east side of the highway at 1730 Land O’ Lakes Boulevard. Sphynx Real Estate of Tampa acquired the site, south of State Road 54, for $535,000 in May.

Dana Development Group is proposing a four-story, 225-bed independent living facility on a vacant parcel on the east side of the road, south of Swans Landing Drive. The land is owned by St. Cloud Crossings LLC of Minnesota.

Last month, Arbor Capital Partners closed on the $975,000 purchase of nearly six acres at the northeast corner of U.S. 41 and Wilderness Lake Boulevard, directly across the highway from the Pasco County School District headquarters and Land O’ Lakes High School.

Efforts to reach the company for comment were unsuccessful, but in the summer of 2018 it filed preliminary plans with Pasco County indicating it planned to develop an Aldi grocery store and two quick-serve restaurants — Zaxby’s and Burger King — on the site. The company has filed no other plans in the interim.

Just to the south, the Wilderness Commons plaza, which already has a Dunkin’ store on an outparcel, landed a new tenant — a coffee shop called Aroma Joe’s, according to county building permit records.

All the construction also requires contractors to support it. Both Himes Electric and Edmonson Electric and Security are building new facilities on Land O Lakes Boulevard.

Buying fuel shouldn’t be too difficult. Preliminary plans filed with the county include proposed convenience store/gas stations at four spots on the east side of the highway: Bell Lake Road, Hale Road, and two at Ehren Cutoff. Proposed fuel for the body includes a Wendy’s restaurant on the west side of the road’s intersection with Pleasant Plains Parkway, the southern entrance to Connerton.

And to the bain of commissioners — who have said that too many self-storage businesses are plucking up desirable sites for employment centers — more storage is coming.

4 PAWS Development of Madeira Beach acquired 4.3 acres just north of Barcellona Road for $825,000 and is constructing a self-storage business, according to county records.

Not far away, another self-storage business is planned at the northwest corner of Wisteria Loop and U.S. 41, though commissioners balked last week when they heard the plan. They tabled the request to change the county’s land-use plan to allow commercial development on the 6.2 acres designated for residential use.

“I want to see redevelopment in the area, but I don’t want to see redevelopment in the way of storage businesses,’’ said Moore.