It hasn’t been entirely smooth skating for Nest Hockey Academy, but the facility is moving closer to bringing its vision to fruition.
The Pasco County Planning Commission on May 4 voted unanimously to recommend approval of a request by Russ and Leanne Henderson to rezone a parcel from agricultural zoning district to a master-plan unit development (MPUD) for a hockey academy.
“What we are is a school that also teaches hockey,” Russ Henderson explained to the planning board.
The academy’s building already exists on the site at 9175 McKendree Road, in Wesley Chapel.
It was constructed as part of the Hendersons’ previous request for a special exception to operate the school.
“Everything that you see now that is on our site was part of our submittal,” he said.
But the special exception caps the number of people that can use the facility at one time to 20 people. The building is designed to accommodate hundreds.
The MPUD is being sought to allow the academy to operate at full strength, with up to 150 students. The site also includes 58 parking spaces.
Brad Tippin, the county’s development review manager, said one of the conditions of approval requires the hockey academy to make arrangements for off-site parking, if it needs to, to accommodate parking demand.
Henderson said he believes the 58 spaces on-site will be adequate to meet the need.
“We’re a single sheet (ice rink). We can only play one game at a time. It would always only be one game at a time,” he said.
While there will be occasional events, the focus will be on academics and hockey, he said.
“We are primarily a school. We’re a school first,” Henderson said.
He said the facility is offering something that is sought after in the state. It wants to partner with the Tampa Bay Lightning to develop a girls’ hockey program.
He explained to the planning board that he originally sought the special exception because he had been told it was a faster process than pursuing an MPUD.
Planning board member Jon Moody asked why an MPUD would be necessary, at this point, rather than merely amending the special exception.
Chief Assistant County Attorney David Goldstein said he’d heard there may be opposition and a special exception wouldn’t get the issue before the county board.
Goldstein also noted the larger enrollment could not be met with the current state of McKendree Road. Improvement of that road is required under the proposed conditions for the MPUD.
Still, Moody insisted that the applicant had a right to pursue his request using a shorter, simpler process.
“I don’t personally find it fair to force the applicant into the MPUD process,” Moody said.
But county staffer Tippin told Moody: “I respectfully disagree with that.”
He said county staff believes the MPUD route is a better approach because the project is within the Connected City, which has a different land development code.
During the May 4 planning board meeting, no one spoke against the request.
A group of parents did turn out, in a show of support for the hockey academy.
Two parents spoke in favor of the request.
One father told the planning board: “This program is second to none. We really, really are amazed by the program there.”
A mother added: “We are beyond blessed to have this opportunity.”
She said the parents are looking forward to approval, so they can become actively involved.
“We don’t get to see their progression. We don’t get to volunteer. We don’t get to help,” she said.
Despite the current limitations, she’s impressed with what’s happening there.
“This is a great mission. The Hendersons are a terrific family.”
The request now goes to the Pasco County Commission, which has final jurisdiction on land use and zoning decisions.
Published May 10, 2023