The developer seeks a brownfield designation for liability issues.
By RAY REYES
The Tampa Tribune
PLANT CITY - Land that was once slated to become the city's largest subdivision has been taken over by another developer planning to build an industrial park.
"It's right there in the center of the state," Steven Schafer, president of Schafer Development, said about the 1,263 acres south of U.S. 92 and east of Park Road. The land's proximity to Interstates 4 and 75 would provide companies that locate there easy access to "get to all points of Florida," Schafer said.
The large tract was approved by the city commission three years ago for Lakeside Station, a proposed 2,600-home subdivision and commercial development that would have had more houses than Walden Lake.
Bob Appleyard, spokesman for Lakeside Station developer Sunrise Homes, said there were several factors as to why the subdivision never progressed past the planning stages.
"The sheer scale," Appleyard said. "It always takes a little longer to get a project of that scale going."
By the time Sunrise Homes was nearly ready to begin construction, the housing market took a drastic downturn, Appleyard said.
City leaders had approached the residential developer a year ago to discuss the possibility of building an industrial park instead, a move that would stimulate more employment opportunities, Appleyard said.
"What Plant City really needed to avoid being a bedroom community was jobs," Appleyard said.
Before Sunrise Homes took over, the Lakeside Station property was part of Gregg Business Centre, an industrial park that was largely undeveloped.
Schafer said he wants to build warehouse distribution centers and light manufacturing facilities on the site but "no smokestack industries." The developer, who has offices in Florida and Michigan, said he hopes to rezone the land from residential to industrial.
The site includes old phosphate land, but Schafer said he doesn't think there is any contamination. However, he is seeking to get a special designation for the property under Florida's Brownfields Redevelopment Act. The state statute describes brownfields as land that "may be complicated by actual or perceived environmental contamination."
Schafer Development will host a town hall meeting regarding the brownfields designation at 6 p.m. today at Hillsborough Community College's Plant City campus, 1206 N. Park Road. The meeting will be held in the 403 building of the college. It is the first in a series of town hall meetings that Schafer hopes leads to the brownfields designation.
Schafer said the site's location near the former Coronet Industries factory is not a concern for his company because a brownfields designation would offer liability protection. If contamination is found on the property, the state will reimburse the developer 50 percent of the cleanup costs under the brownfields act, Schafer said.
Coronet officials maintain that the phosphate facility did not harm public health, and officials have found no health threat. The factory, which opened in 1908, closed in 2004 amid economic problems including rising natural gas prices and competition for its chief product, an animal feed supplement.
When it closed, area residents and former employees claimed the factory caused illnesses and declining property values. A lawsuit filed by residents and former employees is pending. Demolition of the plant at 4028 Coronet Road was completed last year.
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