The Pasco County Planning Commission has rejected an argument that the county should preserve two lots along Ridge Road for industrial use, rather than allowing them to be converted for commercial development.
The county’s planning staff had recommended denial of the proposed land use change, but the planning board dismissed rationale used by planners and recommended approval, instead.
The 3.47 acres at issue are east of Galen Wilson Boulevard and south of Ridge Road, according to information in the Pasco County Planning Commission’s Sept. 1 agenda packet.
Planners said the request is inconsistent with policies within the county’s comprehensive plan. They argued that the current light industrial designation should be preserved because it has the prospect of producing more and higher-paying jobs, than commercial uses would generate.
An email from David Engel, the county’s economic growth director, is included in the planning board’s agenda packet. Engel says the industrial designation has the potential to generate 41% more jobs, and that industrial jobs, in general, pay more.
But planning board member Jon Moody was skeptical.
Moody said he takes issue with the information provided.
“There’s nothing to back it up,” Moody said. “These are nebulous statements.”
Moody questioned the reasoning that industrial uses are big job generators.
The numbers don’t bear out that industrial creates more jobs than commercial, Moody said, noting that Pasco’s “second-largest employer is Publix.”
Planning board chairman Chuck Grey raised objections, too.
“We’ve got blinders on, in this particular instance,” Grey said, explaining he’s familiar with the applicant who has assembled 20 acres of light industrial.
“He’s asking for two acres,” Grey said.
The chairman also asked planners: “Where’s all of the industrial, if there’s such demand?”
Grey went on: “We’re really involved in the Ridge Road development, personally, on the business side. I don’t see any demand for industrial development in that corridor. I haven’t got one question for it. Not one phone call. It’s all retail.”
The planning board chairman also noted there are a number of other nearby commercial uses.
The recommendation for denial, Grey said, “seems very subjective to me.”
Attorney Steve Booth, representing the applicant, told the planning board: “We have to look at the forest, rather than the trees, on this. Everything around there is commercial.
“The frontage, right on Ridge Road, is really only appropriate for commercial,” Booth said.
“Quite frankly, with due respect to staff, it’s laughable when we talk about economic issues with two small lots,” Booth added.
With the current industrial designation, support commercial uses would be possible, but the list of potential uses in that category doesn’t mesh with the demand, Booth said.
“I would respectfully request that you look closely at the map we have here, that shows the actual uses of property surrounding it, and would say it’s totally appropriate for these two lots.”
His client wants to be able to market it to get something that’s more reasonable, Booth said.
Moody also noted that before the meeting began, he checked to see how much activity was happening in the area.
“There’s only one active permit application and it’s by the applicant himself,” Moody said.
“I can tell you as a practicing engineer in the area, I’ve done a dozen layouts in that center and none of them have come to fruition yet. So, right now, the center’s not generating any jobs,” he said.
Pasco working to preserve industrial land
Nectarios Pittos, the county’s director of planning and development, said an analysis on industrial land by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council has identified sites of 20 acres or more as a good size to target for industrial uses.
“To parcel them off, well, that’s what Pasco County has done in the past. And that’s what we’ve been directed not to continue doing,” Pittos said.
The county board wants to preserve sites that are deemed for employment-generating uses, such as light industrial, heavy industrial and employment centers, Pittos said.
In this case, though, no one on the planning board stepped forward to support the planners’ position.
“Personally, I think the location just makes sense for commercial uses, especially for a parcel this size,” said planning board member Jaime Girardi.
Peter Hanzel, also on the planning board agreed: “Ridge Road is a major road. I can’t see why those two lots can’t be commercial. In fact, that’s what they should be. You’re on a major road.”
But Pittos countered: “Pasco is seeing a higher interest in industrial land development. We recently completed the Ridge Road connection to the Suncoast Parkway, and I would say in a number of years, there will be a connection all of the way to U.S. 41, so Ridge Road is going to connect with the strategic intermodal system for Florida. And so, when we have established LI (light industrial) … the default position that we’re going to take is to preserve them.”
Pittos also noted the current plan says that this particular segment of Ridge Road should be an employment-generating area.
David Goldstein, chief assistant county attorney, also told Moody the issue isn’t just the quantity of jobs.
“As a general rule, industrial (jobs) are higher-paying jobs than a Publix,” the attorney said.
Goldstein also noted that the county’s comprehensive plan considers not only current circumstances, but future need, as well.
Goldstein said the planning board cannot approve a request that is inconsistent with the comprehensive plan’s policies. However, he said the board could approve it, if it determined the request is consistent.
Ultimately, the board members passed a motion declaring the request does not violate the county’s policies, and voted to recommend approval.
The request now goes to the Pasco County Commission, which has final jurisdiction in land use and zoning issues.
Published September 14, 2022