Neighbors to a proposed towing operation in Land O’ Lakes made it clear at a recent Pasco County Planning Commission meeting that they think the business should set up shop elsewhere.
Christopher Brown, who is seeking permission for the proposed towing service, wants the county to allow him to operate on a 0.62-acre site on the east side of Land O’ Lakes Boulevard, about 1 mile north of State Road 54.
Ray Gustafson, of Gustafson Engineering, appeared at the planning board’s Sept. 1 meeting to provide details on the request.
The site would include a small modular office, and parking would be provided on the front and a secured impound yard would be in the back, according to a narrative included in the planning board’s agenda packet.
Gustafson said the towing company tows cars that are parked at locations without proper permits, and also removes cars illegally parked on roadsides.
He estimated about 30 vehicles to 40 vehicles would be towed each week.
Brown told the planning board that the office hours would be between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., but the cars typically are towed onto the lot after midnight.
They also can be picked up after-hours, but there is an extra charge for doing that, he said.
Gustafson said the cars will be stored on the back of the property and there will be a heavy buffer wall.
County planners recommended approval of the request, along with a set of conditions.
But neighbors are vehemently opposed.
John Miller, who lives nearby, said a proposed towing operation and impound yard is not a good fit.
“I beg of you to please take into consideration compatibility,” Miller said.
“This is a very intense use, which is not compatible with the Swan Lake subdivision,” he said, noting there are 54 families and also small children who play outdoors.
“It’s an increase of noise and commotion,” he said, noting it’s a 24-hour operation.
“It’s a very lucrative business. They tow cars all of the time,” Miller said.
“The other issue is appearance. This is a junkyard. It’s basically what it is.”
He also noted that U.S. 41, also known as Land O’ Lakes Boulevard, is in transition.
Another neighbor, Mike Ford, said the county should be encouraging a better form of development along U.S. 41.
“Anybody can agree going on U.S. 41, from (State Road) 54 to (State Road) 52, it needs to be cleaned up.
“We need to do something about (U.S.) 41. Let’s improve (U.S.) 41. The middle of the county has been left behind,” he said.
Neighbors also raised concerns about noise from tow trucks dropping off cars, at all hours of the night and about a potential glare from outdoor lighting.
Brown told the planning board his business is under contract with apartment complexes and homeowner associations to remove cars that are double-parked, parked in fire lanes, or parked on properties without permits.
The company also will tow from Pasco roads, in areas where parking on the road is not allowed, he said. Cars typically will be brought to the impound lot between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., he said.
The company doesn’t have any current contract with law enforcement, he said.
Planning board member Chris Poole asked about potential problems of stacking on U.S. 41, as people come to retrieve their cars, or tow trucks to bring in vehicles.
Conditions intended to provide protections
Chief Assistant County Attorney David Goldstein said the county planners’ proposed conditions prohibit parking, stacking, loading or unloading on the public right of way.
Other conditions address neighbors’ concerns, he added.
For instance, there’s a condition that requires an 8-foot tall buffer to protect the neighbors from visual blight. Plus, the applicant must shield the view from the street, the attorney said. “I’m sensitive that this area’s in transition,” Poole said. However, he added: “You’re not going to see cars from the road, it’s all going to be shielded.”
Planning board member Jaime Girardi added: “If they don’t, code enforcement will shut them down.”
Poole interjected, “or the conditional use will be revoked.”
To make sure the applicant understood the conditions, Goldstein asked Brown: “You understand you cannot have any vehicle that’s more than 8 feet in height.
Brown responded: “Yes, I understand.”
To address the neighbors’ concerns about noise, the planning board added a condition referring to the county’s noise ordinance. It also noted that violating that ordinance could trigger a revocation of the conditional use.
Poole said he frequently drives by the site and will be quick to make a report to code enforcement.
Girardi said he was struggling with how to vote on the request.
“This one is difficult,” Girardi said.
U.S. 41 is transitioning, he said, adding that he’s not sure this type of operation represents a transition in the right direction.
Planning board chairman Charles Grey agreed: “If we’re trying to improve our major corridors, I’m not sure it improves it.
“If I lived there, would I want it there, on the other side of the wall? I’d have to say, ‘No, I wouldn’t.’
“When you drive by and you see a towing operation next to a nice development, it tends to bring down the value of that development,” Grey added.
On a roll call vote, the motion to recommend approval passed on a 4-2 vote, with Girardi and Grey voting no.
Planning board member Chris Williams did not vote on the request because he sits on the planning board as a representative of the school board and this application has no impact on school enrollment.
The request now goes to the Pasco County Commission, which has final jurisdiction on land use and zoning matters.
Published September 14, 2022