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  1. Pasco

A skyline in the center of Pasco County? Ranch land could become home to 24 million square feet of businesses and industries.

Lennar and members of the Bexley family of Land O' Lakes are proposing changes in Pasco County's future land-use plan to allow a corporate business park holding up to 24 million square feet of offices and industrial space. It would be located on a portion of nearly 7,000 acres of ranch land east of the Suncoast Parkway and south of State Road 52 in central Pasco. Lennar purchased 2,900 acres from a Bexley family corporation earlier this year. Above, a sold sign sits outside a Lennar house at an unrelated project, Bexley by Newland Communities. C.T. BOWEN | Times
Published Nov. 26, 2018

LAND O' LAKES — A portion of nearly 7,000 acres of ranch land abutting the Suncoast Parkway is targeted for a proposed corporate business park that could include as much as 24 million square feet of office and industrial space.

Corporate entities tied to the Bexley family and Lennar, the nation's largest home builder, are seeking county approval to begin the process of developing what is now agricultural land. A requested change in the county's comprehensive land use plan would allow the property, already designated for future homes and commercial uses, to also include the corporate park. The Pasco County Commission is scheduled to give its initial consideration to the request on Dec. 11.

Lennar, which purchased more than 2,900 acres from the Bexley's Angeline Corp. earlier this year, plans to buy the remaining 4,000 acres from the family and is partnering with Metro Development on the project, said Mark Metheny, president of Lennar's central Florida division.

"It's truly a mixed-use work, play and live environment. We have an opportunity on that scale to do something really special,'' said Metheny.

The proposed corporate park, expected to be about 800 acres, could feature multi-story office buildings, effectively putting a skyline in the center of the county. Officials hope the land-use change is just the first step toward significant corporate relocations and economic development projects bringing high-wage jobs to the county.

"It's a speculative project, but almost always they have someone in mind or else they wouldn't pull the trigger,'' said Bill Cronin, president and CEO of the Pasco Economic Development Council.

The proposed land-use change, dubbed Project Arthur, would allow the land owners to seek future re-zonings to develop as many as 11,495 homes, 5.4 million square feet of non-residential uses and the corporate business park. The land is south of State Road 52 and bordered by the Suncoast Parkway on the west and the CSX Railroad line on the east.

Lennar paid the Angeline Corp. $23.65 million for the initial 2,900-acre purchase earlier this year, according to property records. The land is north of and separate from the Bexley by Newland Communities residential development that fronts State Road 54.

"We're proud that the proposed project incorporates job-creating economic centers in addition to a comprehensively planned residential community, while respecting and preserving the natural features of the site, like the beautiful lakes, oak hammocks and wide-open vistas,'' Bexley family members said in a statement released by their real estate broker, Michael Fay of Avison Young.

The family retained ownership of the commercial node at the southeast corner of the parkway and State Road 52 and is marketing that property for sale separately.

Lennar's partner in this project, Metro Development, is the company developing the connected city corridor in Wesley Chapel and east Pasco — the nation's first high-speed internet gigabit community built from the ground up. Metro's housing developments there include Epperson and Mirada. Its featured amenity in Epperson is the nation's first Crystal Lagoon, a 7-acre man-made lake and beach.

A key to successfully developing the business park will be the proposed construction of the second phase of the Ridge Road Extension from the Suncoast Parkway east to U.S. 41, said Cronin. County officials have said they anticipate a U.S.Army Corps of Engineers permit for the project by the end of September 2019. Environmental groups have objected to the permit application because the proposed route traverses the 6,500-acre Serenova Preserve.

The county plans to build the first phase of the road from the Moon Lake area to the parkway. Private developers are responsible for the second phase. The Florida Turnpike Authority is scheduled to build the $15 million interchange linking the Ridge Road Extension to the parkway. Construction of the road extension and interchange would put the business park within a 25-minute drive to Tampa International Airport, said Cronin, providing a key attribute for luring new businesses to central Pasco.

Metheny said the Ridge Road Extension would be an asset, but would not "make or break'' Lennar's planned project.

County officials showed obvious excitement at the Lennar proposal.

"We have set the stage for high-quality growth and to attract major employers who know what kind of lifestyle we can offer along with the proximity to the airport and the universities,'' said Commissioner Kathryn Starkey. "We have very attractive opportunities.''

Over the past four years, the county and the economic development council have used a portion of the Penny for Pasco sales tax proceeds to prime the pump for business relocations. Among other things, they have loaned money for speculative office buildings and sought site-ready property for potential industrial use.

"We've been having to turn away projects because we didn't have enough product available,'' said Cronin. "This, actually being 100 percent private-sector led, really helps us quite a bit. We've got the private sector doing it, rather than government stimulating them to preserve (land for) industrial product.''

The proposal was scheduled for its first public vetting Nov. 29 before the Pasco Planning Commission, a citizens advisory panel. Metheny said it was too early to determine a timeline for construction.

"We're looking at 10 to 20 years of activity,'' said Metheny. "We're optimistic there will be demand.''

Contact C.T. Bowen at ctbowen@tampabay.com or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2.

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