A New Idea Is Developing
ODESSA - The Starkey family's development plans for land along State Road 54 includes the first attempt at combining a county park with a school complex - a project that supporters say makes better use of government resources but requires more cooperation between the county and school district. The shared site would be near the western edge of the Starkey Ranch near the Longleaf neighborhood. Brothers Frank and Trey Starkey set out more than three years ago to turn what remains of their grandfather's original 16,000-acre cattle ranch into a mix of homes, shops and public facilities. As envisioned, the 2,530-acre project would be a larger, more fully realized version of the Starkeys' Longleaf community at the junction of State Road 54 and Starkey Boulevard.Longleaf follows the tenets of Traditional Neighborhood Design, an architecture movement that favors front porches, rear alleys and live-above storefronts in village-style commercial hubs. County commissioners will consider changing the county's comprehensive plan to allow for the development of Starkey Ranch when they meet at the Local Planning Agency on Wednesday. That meeting is set for 1:30 p.m. at the West Pasco Government Center, 7530 Little Road, in New Port Richey. The developers hope to clear the remaining government hurdles by the end of this year. Construction would begin in 2010 with the first homes available a year later, Trey Starkey said. The Starkeys say they're developing their project with an eye to the future. The development will focus on walkable neighborhoods and transit-friendly streets. The combined park-school site is another innovation. The project cleared the county's Development Review Committee on Aug. 14. The park-school plan would essentially fuse 16 acres of county park land with 15 acres of school property. The combined venture would house a district-owned elementary school and middle school alongside county-owned playgrounds and park facilities the schools would use during the day. The county portion of the complex would be part of an 80-acre regional park. The combined operation is an extension of a side-by-side regional park and school site in Connerton, said Frank Starkey. The park property there will be available for school use. "We like the co-location because it means the county and the school system have to buy less land," said Ray Gadd, assistant superintendent for the Pasco County School District. "Overall, it means I need less land and the county needs less land and I'm spending less of the taxpayers' money." County and school officials still must iron out how they'll divvy up buying the land and maintaining the park property, as well as how they'll keep the combined site secure during school hours. "Those are the devils in the details," Gadd said. The Starkey Ranch combined project could become a model for future joint ventures by the school district and county, Gadd said. "There's no telling what facilities could be combined," he said. Starkey Ranch will change Pasco's landscape in other ways as well. The developers will spend $58 million on road projects in the coming years. About half that money will go into improving S.R. 54's junctions with Gunn Highway, Starkey Boulevard and several other roads. The rest will help build a new commercial center just east of the West Pasco Industrial Park. The developers and the county ironed out their own differences from last spring regarding plans for dual two-lane roads going west across the ranch from its downtown-style commercial hub at Gunn Highway and S.R. 54. County officials were concerned the twin roads would not be large enough to help reduce the future traffic burden on S.R. 54. The Starkeys said smaller roads were needed to keep the community safe for pedestrians. The final plans keep one road, the future extension of Longleaf's Town Avenue, at two lanes. The other, named for Panhandle town Fanning Springs, will have room to grow to four lanes if needed. The economics of Florida real estate remain shaky, but the Starkeys say they're banking on their location near Gunn Highway and the Suncoast Parkway, two of Pasco County's busiest commuting routes into Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. "When you look at our location in Tampa Bay, we're really an 'A' location," Trey Starkey said. They say they're preparing for the day when the housing market turns around - something they suspect will happen about the same time as they begin building houses. With the stress on walking and transit, the Starkeys said they're building for a future when current gas prices might be a pleasant memory. "This is designed for $8-a-gallon gas," Trey Starkey said.
Reporter Kevin Wiatrowski can be reached at (813) 948-4201 or [email protected]