But Sierra Club says developers must “build responsibly”
By B.C. Manion
News of a potential outlet mall in Wesley Chapel is being greeted warmly by some, but is not yet being embraced by environmentalists.
Pasco County Administrator John Gallagher said he recently spoke with representatives of Simon Property Group and The Richard E. Jacobs Group about plans for an outlet mall on a portion of the Cypress Creek Town Center site near Interstate 75 in Wesley Chapel.
Simon Property Group, the world’s largest outlet-mall developer, is interested in developing an upscale outlet center, Gallagher said.
The Richard E. Jacobs Group owns the site just north of the Hillsborough County line, which was approved for Cypress Creek Town Center in 2007 but has since been mired in legal controversy over environmental concerns.
Gallagher said representatives told him they’re waiting for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reissue a permit for the project, and they asked to proceed with submitting site plans while they await approval.
“I told them yes,” Gallagher said, noting the representatives said they would not add density or intensity to the project.
The developers did not respond to requests for information.
The outlet mall would add to the county’s tax base, bring in sales tax revenues and generate jobs, Gallagher said.
Another plus? “It rounds out the shopping experience in that area,” he said, noting an outlet center would likely draw from a 50- to 60-mile area.
Greg Lenners, general manager of The Shops at Wiregrass, said the proposed outlet center could be a fine addition to the neighborhood.
“I think it will be good,” Lenners said. He thinks the outlet center would attract more shoppers from outlying communities and complement what The Shops at Wiregrass offers.
Noting that his mall already is well established, Lenners said the proposed outlet would enhance Wesley Chapel’s position in the market.
“I think it’s really going to put Wesley Chapel on the map,” Lenners said.
J.D. Porter, whose family owns thousands of acres and has played a prominent role in shaping the area’s development, said he has talked with county officials about the prospect.
“I think it’s real,” Porter said.
Both The Jacobs Group, which owns the Cypress Creek Town Center site, and Simon Property Group are known for quality projects, Porter said.
Gallagher said representatives told him they expect about half of the developable land to be used for an outlet mall and the other half to be used for Cypress Creek Town Center.
Jeff Miller, chairman of the Wesley Chapel Economic Development Committee, said an outlet mall “would make Wesley Chapel a destination for multiple opportunities for shopping.”
Miller said he’s excited and optimistic, but he had those feelings before the mall became mired in environmental issues.
Cypress Creek Town Center received a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers in 2007, but has been embroiled in a legal battle since then.
Now that a new party may enter the picture, there may be a better chance to resolve environmental issues, said Denise Layne, of the Sierra Club of Tampa Bay.
“Sometimes a new person will bring a new perspective. I’m very hopeful. Never has it been the Sierra Club’s position to stop the mall,” said Layne, who is chairwoman of the Cypress Creek Town Center Project for the environmental organization.
The Sierra Club wants the developer to “build responsibly,” she said. “They must have a wildlife corridor run through their property.”
Unless an agreement can be reached, Layne said, “nothing is going anywhere anytime soon. There is no permit to build right now.”
The environmental issue that remains unresolved involves the eastern indigo snake.
A federal court ruling on Nov. 17 affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded a previous district ruling in a case involving the Sierra Club and the U.S. Corps of Engineers.
The court rejected the Sierra Club’s claims that the U.S. Corps of Engineers improperly examined the impacts to wetland and waterways. But the court found that the Corps and the developer failed to address the impact to the eastern indigo snake, a threatened species.
In its ruling, the U.S. District Court of Appeals cited Kenneth Dodd, a herpetologist for the Office of Endangered Species, who said the site is an important “wildlife corridor” linking protected areas to the north and south. Dodd noted “movements over large areas of fragmented habitats expose eastern indigo snakes to increased road mortality.”