Pasco County commissioners have approved a mediated settlement that allows a developer to convert a sand mine operation into a temporary limerock mine in Spring Hill.
The decision on Tuesday came a year after commissioners rejected the mine permit for Lago Verde.
Lago Verde was supposed to be an upscale neighborhood centered around a 40-acre lake. Outlaw Ridge Inc. was granted a sand-mining permit in 2007 to create the lake on the parcel just off U.S. 41. The plan was to build 19 homes around the lake within five years. But Outlaw Ridge dug but never hit water.
Because of the proximity to Tampa Bay Water’s Crossbar Ranch well field, the groundwater level had dropped to at least 60 feet below the surface. The only way to create the lake would be to blast limestone – a proposal that drew immediate opposition from nearby residents.
Chief Assistant County Attorney David Goldstein said accepting the settlement would allow the county to avoid a lawsuit from Outlaw Ridge. “I’m not telling you they would win, but there is an argument they could be entitled to damages,” he said.
In addition, the developer agreed to numerous conditions to protect nearby homeowners – including agreeing to build a 10-foot berm for any adjoining homeowner who requests it and setting up a $510,000 escrow fund for repairs, home inspections and neighborhood improvements.
Attorney David Smolker, who represents Outlaw Ridge, said the developer had agreed to buy the two closest homes. “My client did something that is unheard of,” Smolker said. “They agreed to conditions that go above and beyond any other limerock mine in the county.”
Smolker said the mine would limit its blasts to no more than three times a month – each blast would last a few seconds. “It’s not that big a deal,” he said. “The residents out there will not suffer any adverse effects.”
Attorney Ralf Brookes, who represents the neighboring Shady Acres Homeowners Association, urged the commissioners to stand by their original vote to deny the mine permit.
“It is inconceivable that the neighbors’ quality of life will not be affected by blasting, not to mention the dust clouds and truck traffic,” he said.
Residents spoke against the settlement, saying they were in the neighborhood long before Lago Verde. “I’m very pro-business, always have been,” homeowner Myles Freidland said. “But at the same time I’d like to bring common sense back to government. Blasting is going to create shockwaves, which absolutely will lead to sinkholes.”
Others questioned whether Outlaw Ridge ever truly planned to build million-dollar homes on the site, or if the limerock mining was the company’s plan all along.
Commissioner Jack Mariano championed the residents’ case, but he was the sole vote against the mediated settlement.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said she understood the neighbors’ fears. “But I don’t think it’s going to be as bad as they think,” she said. “I do think that eventually this lake is going to be an asset to the area.”