By Matt Wiley
After nearly five full years of legal battles, development may finally soon be in the works for the Cypress Creek Town Center Development of Regional Impact (DRI), after a recent meeting between outlet mall developer Simon Property Group and the Richard E. Jacobs Group, the company that has been trying to develop the environmentally sensitive property at the intersection of I-75 and S.R.s 54 & 56.
Pasco County administrator John Gallagher says that Simon has expressed interest in developing an outlet mall at the Cypress Creek Town Center that would be similar to the company’s Prime Outlets at Ellenton.
“They (Simon) wanted to know what they had to do on the county side to start submitting plans after they get their permits,” he says.
Gallagher also says that it was a very positive meeting and that all Simon needs to do is obtain a building permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before the developer can submit its preliminary plans.
Simon Property Group has neither confirmed nor denied any interest in the property and says that, if anything is announced regarding the property, it will be through a press release.
Lawsuits from a coalition of environmental groups led by the Sierra Club of Tampa Bay have delayed the project with legal setbacks since 2007, shortly after the Army Corps issued the Jacobs Group a permit to begin developing the 500+ acre parcel, which has development rights both north and south of S.R. 56.
The Corps revoked the permit after muddy water was discovered pouring into Cypress Creek, a tributary that feeds into the Hillsborough River and supplies drinking water to Hillsborough and surrounding counties, but the Sierra Club’s lawsuit still moved forward. The headend of Cypress Creek, which is located on the property, also is a known fish rookery. The Sierra Club sued the Army Corps for violating the Clean Water Act in 2007 and the Jacobs Group paid substantial fines in a settlement.
A November 2011 ruling in Federal Appeals Court reversed a previous decision that all but revoked the mall’s building permit and, according to court documents, ordered the Corps to make a determination on how the project would affect wildlife habitat fragmentation, specifically for the endangered eastern indigo snake.
“The big issue, besides watching the water, is the wildlife corridor,” says Sierra Club of Tampa Bay spokesperson Denise Layne.
Layne says that if the area were developed, the animals would have to cross roadways when moving between protected areas, particularly wetlands, at the mercy of local traffic.
“The only place for wildlife to go is through that corridor where they plan to build that mall,” she says. “All of the other land has been sold.”
Layne says that she doesn’t think there are yet any imminent plans to develop the outlet mall and that the Sierra Club is still in litigation in Washington, D.C., but she is not opposed to working with new developers.
“Anytime a new body gets involved, I’m very helpful,” she explains. “There’s always hope.”