A request to redevelop Saddlebrook Resort has cleared the first step in a lengthy county review process required before any redevelopment can occur.
The Pasco County Commission voted 4-1 to send a request by Miami-based Mast Capital to the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity and other state agencies for review. Commission Chairman Jack Mariano voted no.
The vote came after hours of discussion at the April 4 public hearing, where speakers offered testimony both for and against Mast’s proposed redevelopment of Saddlebrook.
Saddlebrook, which opened in 1981, is situated off State Road 54, east of Interstate 75, in Wesley Chapel. It has been the training grounds of professional golf and tennis stars and was once widely known as a world-class resort.
But, by virtually all accounts, the resort has fallen into disrepair over the years and will need a significant infusion of capital to restore it to its glory days.
Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said she’s pleased that Mast has stepped forward because other developers have looked at Saddlebrook and couldn’t get the numbers to work.
In broad strokes, Mast’s redevelopment plan has four parts: two areas are within Saddlebrook’s gated community and two are outside, flanking State Road 54.
Area 1 and Area 2 are outside of the gated community.
The plans for Area 1 call for 75,000 square feet of commercial retail/office, 465 multifamily units and 35 townhomes.
The plans for Area 2 call for 25,000 square feet of commercial retail/office and 120 townhomes.
Area 3 and Area 4 are within the existing resort community.
Plans for Area 3 call for the preservation of the tennis courts and renovation of the clubhouse and resort area.
Plans for Area 4 call for the redesigned golf courses and relocation of the driving range, which currently fronts State Road 54.
Under Mast’s plans, development along State Road 54 would include a mixture of commercial and residential uses in a walkable area featuring neighborhood parks, patio seating, a wide boulevard and other amenities, according to the proposal.
Plans also call for dual left-hand turning lanes leading out of the resort’s main entrance. Plus, an additional right-in/right-out access would serve the new development along State Road 54.
The developer also has committed to extend Vision Road H, to provide another connection into Saddlebrook.
Those speaking in favor of Mast’s request said the company’s investment is needed to save Saddlebrook, and they praised the company for seeking to make Saddlebrook a competitive resort.
They also praised Mast for agreeing to a private deed restriction that guarantees the golf course land will be protected.
Those speaking against the plan questioned its compatibility with the existing community’s character. They raised concerns about the disruption of the quiet nature of the resort community.
They predicted that increased traffic within the community will pose hazards to people who are walking, biking or using golf carts on the area’s roads.
They also criticized Mast’s plan for lacking a specific timeline for the resort’s renovation.
Some also spoke out against Mast’s plans to replace the two 18-hole golf courses with three nine-hole courses. They said there would be too much distance between holes on the redesigned courses.
They disagreed with Mast’s assessment that a complete overhaul is needed to create a course that will attract today’s golfers.
Despite the disagreements, it appeared that Mast is making progress in building support for its plan.
More speakers stepped forward to support Mast’s plan than had done so at previous public hearings.
The transmittal of Mast’s request for state review is a preliminary step in the process.
Before Mast can proceed with the proposed redevelopment, it needs to secure approval of its requested comprehensive land use change and approval of a companion master-plan unit development (MPUD) zoning.
Each of those requests must go to a public hearing before the Pasco County Planning Commission and then come back to the county board for a final vote.
In voicing support for the transmittal at the April 4 hearing, Pasco County Commissioner Seth Weightman noted he would support the transmittal, but made it clear there are issues that need to be worked out.
Specifically, Weightman said he’s not “not overly enthusiastic” about the proposed multifamily units or the proposed density of Mast’s plan.
Published April 12, 2023