Residents roiled by builder's plan shift
Heritage Springs seeks approval for more homes and fewer amenities
than it had proposed, and some cry foul.

Article Courtesy of the St. Petersburg Times
Published May 9, 2003

TRINITY - When Harold and Bernice Cozewith started searching for a place to retire, they singled out 18 communities along Florida's west coast and began a thorough comparison.

In the end, the New Jersey couple's scorecards pointed to one place: Heritage Springs.

"There was a beautiful warmth about all the people we met there," Mrs. Cozewith, 60, a retired high school history teacher, said Thursday. There was golf, swimming and a woodworking shop for her husband. 

Now, a year after they moved into the U.S. Home development, the Cozewiths have lost some enthusiasm for their neighborhood.

"We feel we've been cheated," Mrs. Cozewith said. "You get the feeling that here comes corporate America, ready to squeeze out the very last nickel."

The Cozewiths were alarmed to learn recently that the developer, whose parent company is Lennar Corp., wants to retreat from plans for an additional golf course, swimming pool and tennis courts.

Some residents say they were told the development would not grow beyond 1,400 homes - there are about 750 currently - but now more than 1,800 are shown on the plans.

The combined effect of the loss of amenities and expanding neighborhoods presents several concerns, residents say.

Property values could go down, and the existing swimming pool, tennis courts and 18-hole golf course, already a hot commodity, could be overwhelmed.

"They would be sharing what they already perceive to be a full boat," said County Commissioner Ann Hildebrand, who considers herself sympathetic to the residents' concerns.

The demand is there, for sure. Located in the Trinity area, not far from State Road 54, Heritage Springs has helped make Pasco County one of the fastest-growing counties in the United States.

The county Development Review Committee was scheduled Thursday to review proposed changes to Heritage Springs' blueprint, including the scaled back amenities, but the meeting was postponed to June 19.

County staff has recommended approval of the changes because it would result in an 8 percent increase in open space, despite the loss of amenities, development director Cynthia Jolly said.

It was unclear how that space would increase. Officials with Lennar Corp., which became the nation's largest home builder with the acquisition of U.S. Home in 2000, declined to comment Thursday.

Jolly said postponing the hearing was intended to give residents and Lennar time to work out their differences.

The divide appeared wide Thursday. Dozens of residents planned to attend the meeting and protest the changes. Among them was 72-year-old Ed Piscini, who moved to the community from Las Vegas.

"A lot of people are very upset," he said. "This was a company we trusted, and they are not coming through. They've got their own idea, and that's profit."

Doyle Dudley, a Lennar development director, would say little Thursday about the proposed changes, only that "I intend to continue talking with these homeowners and working with them."

Golf courses have caused problems for Lennar before. Revenue from the links at its Heritage Harbor development in Lutz was being used to pay off a $7.9-million recreation bond debt but competition from other courses cut into profit. Lennar is developing a plan to clear up the $7-million in outstanding debt.