NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County is making its largest-ever environmental land purchase, agreeing to spend $22 million for 843 acres within Lennar’s Project Arthur development in central Pasco.
The land, south of State Road 52 and east of the Suncoast Parkway, is contained in two tracts. The property currently is owned by Len-Angeline, the company Lennar formed for the development, and the Bexley family, which is selling its massive ranch to the home-building giant.
The property provides key additions to the county’s ecological corridors that provide wildlife habitat links to existing preserves including those at Connerton, the Starkey Wilderness Preserve and Cross Bar and Cypress Creek well fields.
The acquisition brings the total land preserved since the environmental program’s inception 14 years ago to 6,973 acres. It is the county’s largest purchase in terms of both price and acres, said Keith Wiley, Pasco’s director of parks, recreation and natural resources. It leaves a balance of $5 million in the land-buying kitty. However, the environmental land acquisition and management program, known by the acronym eLAMP, is scheduled to receive approximately $5 million annually through 2024 from the Penny for Pasco sales tax.
The purchase, approved unanimously by commissioners Tuesday morning, earned accolades from environmental activists even with the purchase price of $21.9 million. The cost equates to a little less than $26,000 per acre. The agreed upon price was the mid-point of two appraisals that valued the land at $16.925 million and $26.874 million. With the added closing costs, the total public expense is $22.050 million.
"It was a little bit of sticker shock, but when I looked at it, I realized this is prime entitlement land in the middle of the county,'' said Jennifer Seney, one of the original advocates for the county’s environmental land program. "It’s not unexpected. That’s what you pay.''
Commissioners also lauded the purchase, which includes 196 acres along the Pithlachascotee River and 647 acres toward Five Mile Creek.
"It’s a phenomenal acquisition. It fits right in the core of what we’re trying to do,'' said Commissioner Jack Mariano.
Project Arthur, now being marketed by Lennar as Angeline, carries entitlements for up to 11,495 homes, 5.4 million square feet of non-residential uses and an 800-acre commerce park, the lead entity for which has been identified as an expansion of the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute. As part of the sale, Len-Angeline will forfeit the opportunity to transfer planned housing densities to other locations in the development. The result will be a reduction of more than 1,500 building lots in the project.
The county said the purchased land will protect the floodplains of both the Pithlachascotee River and Five Mile Creek and provide forested uplands adjacent to the designated ecological corridors.
“We are excited to partner with Pasco County to secure two of the most critical components of its ecological corridor. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a significant ecological impact that further emphasizes the transformative nature of Angeline,'' said Mark Metheny, Lennar’s division president.
Lennar, which purchased more than 2,900 acres from the Bexley’s Angeline Corp. last year, plans to buy the remaining 4,000 acres from the family and is partnering with Metro Development on the project.
As part of the deal, Len-Angeline will contribute 40 acres next to the corridor toward a 147-acre park site within the development. It will not receive impact fee credits for that donation. The company also must spend $3 million to help develop the park that is intended to provide both active and passive recreation because of its proximity to the corridor.
"Even though we are forgoing more than 1,500 potential home sites, we believe you can develop in an environmentally friendly way and still have a great project,'' said Metheny, who said more than half of the Angeline development will be kept in its natural state.
The transaction is expected to close before the end of the year, but the current owners can continue to use the land for cattle grazing, without charge, until December 2020.