The Pasco County Commission has delayed a decision regarding a controversial request that would clear the way to consider commercial uses at the southwest corner of State Road 54 and Meadowbrook Estates.
The request is being vigorously contested by residents in Meadowbrook Estates and Sierra Pines subdivision, in Lutz.
Opponents object to allowing a change in the land use designation that would open the door to a rezoning request that would allow a litany of commercial uses.
Kiddie Campus University Inc., the land owner and applicant, is represented by attorney Barbara Wilhite.
Two previous efforts to gain approvals for a day care at the site were denied.
The current effort is to first obtain a land use change to allow commercial uses, and then to get a zoning change for the 1.67-acre site.
It is not unusual for the sale of property to be contingent on the successful acquisition of land use or zoning change.
Sharon Hunnewell-Johnson, of 17300 Riverstone Drive, told commissioners she’s lived in the neighborhood for 30 years.
“I do know firsthand, I was called by the person that I believe Barbara (Wilhite) represents, and I was told this was going to be a gas station/car wash. We cannot have a gas station/car wash within our neighborhood,” Hunnewell-Johnson said.
Speakers told commissioners that they worry that contaminants from a gas station could seep into their groundwater supply. They said the neighborhoods rely on well water for drinking water, as well as watering their fruit trees.
The neighborhoods were represented by Todd Pressman, a private consultant, Patricia Ortiz, a private planning consultant and attorney Luke Lirot, in opposing the request.
Numerous neighbors — sporting red T-shirts in a sign of solidarity — appeared via a remote feed at the March 23 public hearing to voice their objections. A number of letters of opposition also were read into the record.
Ortiz said the request represents a commercial intrusion into an established residential neighborhood.
Neighbors told commissioners that they don’t oppose use of the site, but want the use to be less intense.
Pressman also presented petitions signed by more than 140 people opposed to the request.
Lirot said that neighbors oppose potential uses that could affect their property values and their quality of life.
“If it’s a doctor’s office, or something else that wouldn’t be open deep into the evening, with noise and smoke and fumes, and things of that nature — if it’s a professional type of development — there’s no problem whatsoever.
“Nobody wants to deny the property owner of the use and benefit of that particular property,” Lirot said.
He asked the county board to consider a restriction that will limit the options available only to uses that would not have an adverse effect on the neighborhood.
Wilhite told commissioners that the proposed use is in keeping with the county’s long-range land plan.
The location fronts on State Road 54, which is a six-lane arterial highway. The site also is at a signalized intersection, which is ¾-miles east of the Suncoast Parkway.
She cited a policy in the county’s land use plan that specifically directs where the board wants commercial land uses to occur, and this location meets that criteria.
Commissioners said they want to ensure that buffering is adequate to protect the neighboring properties.
Commissioner Mike Moore asked: “Any chance counsel on both sides could maybe get together, put their heads together a little bit, and come up with a compromise between the two and bring this back?
“Just a thought, a suggestion. I don’t know if both sides are willing to have those discussions,” Moore said.
Moore said he has concerns for the house that’s across the street and for the house that abuts the property. He also questioned if there is sufficient room to meet buffering requirements.
Commission Chairman Ron Oakley and Commissioner Kathryn Starkey also raised concerns about protecting nearby properties.
Starkey said “the devil is in the details” and noted there are plenty of examples of commercial uses adjacent to residential neighborhoods around the county.
Moore asked Wilhite if she was willing to meet with the other side.
She responded: “Commissioner Moore, you know I will always have conversations. I’m happy to have conversations.”
Commissioner Jack Mariano agreed with Moore’s suggestion to ask the two sides to meet, to see if they can work something out.
Mariano told Pressman: “Mr. Pressman, I strongly recommend, take the opportunity to meet with them, otherwise, we vote on it now. We don’t know where it’s going to go yet.”
Pressman replied: “I hear you commissioner, and with that, I don’t think we have a choice but to meet and talk. But I’m going to say again, you’re putting the onus on the applicant for site plan and buffering. You need to put the onus on use.”
Starkey told Pressman: “I disagree.”
After both sides agreed to meet, the board voted to continue the land use request until April 20. The companion rezoning request also has been delayed. It is now set for May 18.
Published March 31, 2021
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