Most Saddlebrook residents are aware the once-prime development they live in is showing signs of age, and has been badly in need of a refresh for years.

However, what new owners Mast Capital have planned for the resort and surrounding community isn’t quite clear, residents argued on Jan. 5 at a Pasco County Planning Commission meeting in New Port Richey.

While Mast Capital’s plans to redevelop Saddlebrook by changing the county’s comprehensive plan and producing a new Master Planned Unit Development (MPUD) managed to pass the planning commission by a 5-2 vote and will eventually require approval by the Board of County Commissioners (BCC), most of the 100 or so opponents that showed up to the nearly four-and-a-half hour meeting left scratching their heads.

The issue for most of them was clarity.

What the plans were clear about was adding apartments, townhomes and more than 100,000 sq. ft. of retail and commercial space outside the gates of the resort, on the undeveloped land along S.R. 54. However, the details were murkier regarding what is actually going to happen inside the gates of Saddlebrook, particularly with the renowned golf courses, tennis courts and resort.

“We were very disappointed,” said JoAnn Barbetta, who along with husband Larry formed the Save Saddlebrook Coalition last month. “I was really surprised that they (the Planning Commission) could move forward to recommend something that seems so lacking in detail.”

Eran Landry, the managing director of Mast Capital, told the Planning Commission members that the resort would receive a significant upgrade “and be much more upscale than what it’s been.” 

Plans include 5,000 sq. ft. of retail, a new 12,000-sq.-ft. clubhouse, renovated restaurants, new outdoor amenities, improved dorms and additional parking. 

Landry mentioned ice cream shops, splash pads and a more family-friendly environment, upgrading the “underwhelming” pool and improving resort rooms “that just aren’t competitive” in today’s market.

But, the plans for the two Arnold Palmer-designed golf courses and driving range (which is currently located near the entrance of the resort and serves as the training center for Saddlebrook’s golf academy) riled opponents. 

“We love nature and it hurts my heart when developers come in and mow down every tree to get every dollar out of every inch of land,” resident Jacqueline May said. “That’s why we bought in Saddlebrook.”

While Mast’s original plans to add 60 single-family homes and 100 townhomes over one of the golf courses were scrapped, Landry said the 36 total golf holes would be reconfigured to 27 holes, and the driving range would be relocated.

He did not say who was going to redesign the newly configured golf course, saying Mast was in talks with the late Arnold Palmer’s design company and another golf course designer, and did not say where the driving range would be moved.

Also, there were questions over what would fill any space remaining in the aftermath of reducing the number of holes, and how that would affect home owners who bought their homes for the golf course views.

Jacqueline May, a teacher at Pasco-Hernando State College, held back tears as she told the Planning Commission members that her and her husband’s home was their retirement nest egg, and that they purchased it because of the view and the natural beauty surrounding  it.

“We love nature and it hurts my heart when developers come in and mow down every tree to get every dollar out of every inch of land,” she said. “That’s why we bought in Saddlebrook.”

There also was no mention by Landry about whether or not there were any plans for the tennis courts in the same area. Saddlebrook has notably been the training ground for professional tennis stars like Martina Hingis, John Isner, Jennifer Capriati, Jim Courier and many others.

Changes Along S.R. 54

Plans for the two outer parcels were clearer. 

Mostly west of the main entrance at Saddlebrook Way on S.R. 54, a 35-acre parcel will include 75,000 sq. ft. of commercial, 465 apartments and 35 townhomes. An additional road, the long-rumored Vision Rd. which is eventually supposed to connect to both Wiregrass Ranch Blvd. and Bruce B. Downs Blvd., will be built to accommodate additional traffic in and out of the new development.

Justina Gale of Florida Design Consultants told the Planning Commission this area would become a true mixed-use integrated and multi-story project, with retail on the bottom and offices above it, with the apartments further back off S.R. 54. It will include trails, neighborhood parks, plazas and will “create a sense of place.”

An additional 19-acre parcel further west will include another 25,000 sq. ft. of commercial as well as 120 townhomes.

Opponents cited traffic as a concern — there is only one way in and out of Saddlebrook, which they say will create traffic jams. They also said replacing the green space along the resort’s entrance with apartments and restaurants was incompatible with the nature theme the resort has cultivated for more than 40 years.

“Saddlebrook is a gem and needs to be treated that way,” JoAnn Barbetta said. “Growth and development is a part of our life and I understand that. But, there comes a time when we need to take a pause, step back and ask whether we want to completely alter the character of a beloved, historic community like Saddlebrook.”

The Planning Commission had concerns with the lack of detail in the plans, as well as a few errors and omissions. Chief assistant county attorney David Goldstein, who did not have a vote, questioned whether that lack of detail “would put the Board in a bad spot.”

Planning commission member Jon Moody was the most outspoken against approving the plans. He had originally flagged them when they hadn’t been seen by residents and somehow ended up on a consent agenda, which recommends approval without debate, leading to the Jan. 5 meeting where residents could hear about and finally see the plans and voice their concerns.

“I will tell you I would not feel comfortable today denying this application,” Moody said. “But I would feel more comfortable if it were brought back to us with more detail at a later date.”

Planning Commission chair Charles Grey sympathized with the concerned residents, especially those who fear losing the golf course views they paid a premium for decades ago, but also told them they needed to understand that, “if you don’t do something, your beautiful development is going to die.” 

He voted against forwarding the plans to the BCC, but urged the residents to work with Mast.

After some consternation, the Planning Commission moved the plans forward, with a hopeful request that more details are provided will be by Mast Capital in the proposed MPUD before the BCC has its say next month.

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