The Pasco County Commission has cleared the way for a 110-foot observation tower to be erected on a property off St. Joe Road in Dade City.
Commissioners voted unanimously to approve a conditional use request, submitted by Terry D. and Mary McKnight.
The application received a recommendation for approval by the Pasco County Commission, on a 3-2 vote, and a recommendation for denial by the county planning staff.
The staff said the proposed tower is not in keeping with the character of the area, but a majority of planning commissioner said it could be approved, along with a lengthy list of conditions.
The County Commission agreed with the Planning Commission’s recommendation.
Some area property owners objected to the tower. They claimed it is not a compatible use and could pose an invasion of privacy.
Terry McKnight, of 36210 St. Joe Road, told county commissioners that just five of the 19 neighbors receiving notice of the request had objected to his proposal.
“Nobody, that is not on our land, would be able to see all of the tower,” McKnight said.
Plus, he added, “relatively few people would be able to see the tower, at all.”
Those who would be able to see it — at most would be able to see about 50 feet of it, he said.
“But, they’ll be seeing it at some distance,” he said, and would be seeing the cabin, which is about 7 feet by 7 feet.
McKnight also showed commissioners some photographs taken by a drone at the exact spot where the observation platform would be.
Those photos essentially showed treetops, a lake and the sky.
“As you can see, the homes won’t even be visible from the tower, if it were to be erected,” McKnight said.
But, Stephen Futch, whose family owns property next to the McKnights, submitted a letter outlining 11 points of opposition.
“My great-grandfather was a county commissioner when this courthouse was built. So we have a long legacy in Dade City. That goes back 109 years ago,” Futch said, noting his mother used to live on the property, which is now part of an estate.
“Would you want to have a 110-foot tower next to your property?” he asked commissioners.
Another nearby resident, Doug Stentz, of 36125 Lynan Farms Drive, across the lake from the proposed tower, said he’s worried that the request could set a precedent.
“We don’t want a lot of towers around our lake,” Stentz said.
Two others spoke in support of the McKnights’ request.
Charles Waller, of 38038 Americana Ave., in Dade City, said he has an ownership interest in some nearby property, and he and his partners have no objections to the observation tower.
He noted that the McKnights’ property already has some unique features.
“This property has an iron fence along the front of it. That fence that came from a public housing project, over in Tampa.
“The bricks in the columns came from Sunken Gardens in St. Pete.
“There’s a beautiful fireplace out back that came from the stone in the Old City Hall here in Dade City,” Waller said.
He also noted that McKnight “has a vital interest in the Boy Scouts. He thinks that this will be an educational situation for them, and I certainly agree.
“These fire towers, which have been such an important part of our life here in Florida, are being decommissioned at a steady rate, and to have this one preserved here, I think is going to be an asset for us.
“It’s not going to harm any person. It will be a good thing for the community,” Waller said.
A room with a view
Margaret Woods, of 36332 St. Joe Road, said, “I’m the third property east of the McKnights.”
She noted that out of those notified about the McKnights’ request, just five objected.
“The rest of us have not objected,” Woods said. “Most of the neighbors that I talked to thought it was kind of a cool idea. We were excited about it from the very beginning.
“When you’re in the national forest and you see a fire tower in the forest, is it a blight upon the scenery in the forest? No, it isn’t.
“Certainly from the drone pictures you can see, there’s no privacy issue. Nobody is going to have anybody looking through their windows because of the tree canopy.
“I don’t see it as posing a danger for anyone. I don’t see it posing a privacy issue for anyone.
“And, I really don’t see that it ruins the view,” Woods said.
Commissioner Ron Oakley made a motion to approve the request.
“I don’t find that it’s going to be an eyesore,” Oakley said. “You’re going to be looking across a beautiful area of Pasco County, which is right here in East Pasco, which is pretty remarkable in itself, with our hills and trees.”
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said “My first thought on this was, ‘It’s very odd.’”
But, she added, “I’d probably want to stop by and climb it.”
“If you didn’t have the canopy and you could look down on everybody’s yards, that would be a little creepy, but I think you’ve got a good canopy. And, quite frankly, anybody could fly a drone these days and see much more than they should.
“I think the conditions are good conditions,” Starkey said.
Published October 17, 2018