Advertisement
  1. News
  2. /
  3. Pasco

Settlement clears way for SunWest Harbourtowne resort in Pasco

The agreement should end lawsuits among owners of coastal land targeted for development
The proposed development of SunWest Harbourtowne resort in northwest Pasco County, on what has been a working lime rock mine, could be advancing after owners reached a settlement agreement of their court fight over control of company that owns the land.  TIMES [2005]
The proposed development of SunWest Harbourtowne resort in northwest Pasco County, on what has been a working lime rock mine, could be advancing after owners reached a settlement agreement of their court fight over control of company that owns the land. TIMES [2005] [ Times (2005) ]
Published Oct. 20

The owners of the proposed SunWest Harbourtowne project in northwest Pasco County have reached a settlement agreement in their 4-year-old court fight over control of the companies that own the nearly 1,100 acres targeted for the coastal resort.

“We are clearing the path for SunWest Harbourtowne to go forward,” said John G. “Gary” Grubbs, president of Sun West Acquisition Corp. “The partners are being bought out and I’m staying in.”

Sun West Acquisition and its affiliates own 1,076 acres south of Aripeka. The group unveiled the SunWest Harbourtowne proposal more than 15 years ago, with the original plan calling for a mix of single-family homes, a resort hotel, commercial businesses, golf course and marina amid freshwater lakes sitting between the Gulf of Mexico and U.S. 19.

But the property, with a $100 million asking price, also has been on the market for nearly as long.

And, Grubbs and minority partners — attorney Thomas Hogan of Brooksville and accountant R. Victor Taglia of Palm Harbor — have been mired in litigation since 2017.

Related: Sun West landowners trade wrongful conduct charges

Taglia’s wife, Denise, in her role as a trustee of the family trust, sued Grubbs in Pasco Circuit Court, contending he used the Sun West Acquisition Corp. as his “personal piggybank’' spending $1.6 million of the company’s money, without authorization, to support his lifestyle. The suit also contended Grubbs set an unrealistically inflated asking price because he never intended to sell the property.

Sixteen days later, Grubbs sued Hogan; his wife, attorney Deborah Hogan; their law firm and Taglia in Pinellas Circuit Court, alleging malpractice, fraud, civil conspiracy and other charges. The suit contended Hogan and Taglia siphoned millions of dollars from Grubbs in undocumented fees and expenses and conspired in 2016 to take control of Sun West Acquisition’s property and “shut Grubbs out of the entire operation.’’

Grubbs formed Sun West Acquisition in 1998. He owns three-quarters of the stock, with Hogan and Taglia, who served as chief financial officer, each owning 12.5 percent, according to court records.

Grubbs’ wealth came from another company, Grubbs Emergency Services, which does clean-up work after natural disasters and other emergencies nationally. Formed in 2000, it generated nearly $350 million in income and a $55 million profit in a three-year period ending in 2005, according to his lawsuit.

Last month, Pinellas Circuit Judge Cynthia Newton granted a stay in the lawsuit after the parties announced a “global settlement agreement” that required some contingencies to be met by Dec. 15.

The tentative settlement, announced in an August court filing, came five weeks after Grubbs’ attorney filed an amended lawsuit. It added a claim of punitive damages against Hogan and Taglia in addition to the treble damages that could be awarded in the conspiracy allegation.

Keep up with all things Pasco County

Keep up with all things Pasco County

Subscribe to our free Pasco Times newsletter

You’ll get the latest Pasco County community news every Saturday.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

The settlement agreement remains confidential, according to court records. An attorney for the Hogans, Matt Foreman of Spring Hill, declined comment. The Taglias’ attorney, Thomas Wert of Orlando, also said his clients declined comment.

Grubbs said a separate company is buying out Hogan’s and Taglia’s interests, and the proposed development will proceed. The global settlement also means the Taglia case against Grubbs in Pasco Circuit Court, which has been on hold in deference to the suit in Pinellas Court, also is being settled.

“Everything,” said Grubbs. “Everything is being cleaned up.”

The private Sun West Acquisition land — separate from the adjacent Pasco County-owned Sunwest Park — is currently being mined for limestone, but has county approval for the mixed-use development. In 2019, Grubbs’ land-use attorney filed preliminary paperwork with Pasco to replace the golf course with a 1,000-space RV resort that Grubbs this week called “the most beautiful campground in the entire nation.”

“Everything’s positive. All this negative (stuff) is being swept aside and everybody seems to be happy right now,” said Grubbs. “It’s been a long, ugly road.”

.