The Pasco County Planning Commission has recommended approval of an ordinance that will create airport overlay districts to prevent potential threats to airport operations and air navigation.
The proposed ordinance would apply to Zephyrhills Municipal Airport, publicly owned and publicly maintained; Tampa North Aero Park and Pilot Country Airport, publicly used and privately owned; and Hidden Lake Airport, privately used and privately owned, according to Denise Hernandez, Pasco County’s zoning administrator.
It also will apply to the Brooksville Airport, but only in terms of height restrictions, which are controlled by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Hernandez said.
Existing development will be deemed a conforming use, meaning it can remain and, if something should happen to damage or destroy those uses, they can be rebuilt, Hernandez told planning board members during their June 22 public hearing on the topic.
The ordinance will be codified in a new section of the county’s land development code relating to Airport Overlay Districts.
Florida statute requires all local airports to adopt zoning regulations that are consistent with state law, Hernandez said. Airports that had adopted airport zoning regulations had to modify them to be consistent with that law.
“It basically states that we had to adopt, administer and enforce airport protection zoning regulations and land use compatibility zoning regulations,” Hernandez explained.
Efforts to draft the Airport Overlay Districts began in 2017, when the Pasco County Commission established an Airport Zoning Commission.
At that time, the Airport Zoning Commission consisted of the Tampa North Aero Park, the Pilot Country Airport and the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport. In 2021, Hidden Lake Airport was added.
The Pasco County Commission also took action in 2018 to approve an interlocal agreement with the City of Zephyrhills and Hernando County.
The county board also hired a consultant to do noise contour studies, which were adopted by a resolution of the board.
“Those noise contour studies are embedded within the ordinance that you’re looking at today,” Hernandez told the planning board.
She also noted that a moratorium on development near airports was adopted by the county board in 2022. That moratorium is set to expire on Aug. 15.
During the moratorium, Hernandez, Senior Assistant County Attorney Elizabeth Blair and other county staffers worked with stakeholders including land use attorneys, planners, engineers, airport owners, pilots and other interested parties to address the issues.
“The Airport Zoning Commission held workshops. The Airport Zoning Commission held public hearings,” Hernandez said.
Once adopted, the ordinance will be administered by the county’s planning and development department, with appeals going to the planning board.
The ordinance defines different areas pertaining to an airport, such as the airport influence area, the airport zone and the airport surface area, and establishes uses that would be acceptable, would be allowed with mitigation and would be prohibited.
Seeking fair application of new regulations
Planning board member Jon Moody wanted assurances that the new regulations would be applied fairly and consistently.
Blair said the county patterned its ordinance after Santa Rosa County, which has an extensive airport zoning regulation land use compatibility chapter in its land use development code.
She said that’s because Santa Rosa has scores of military installations and also has an airport, similar in size to Tampa Park Aero North Airport.
Blair added: “We looked at our zoning maps. We looked at our Future Land Use maps. We looked at aerials, the property appraiser’s website, etc. — to actually see, what is the potential for the actual use of the land in the approach surface floor?
“One of the things you don’t want to have in your approach surface area is a large assembly of people,” Blair said. “Obviously, you don’t put churches or schools or so forth in the area.
“If you look at the true reality of what’s going on in Pasco County under these areas, almost everything is built out, except for around Zephyrhills and Pilot country,” she added.
Moody said he wants to ensure that decisions regarding requests for development near airports are not arbitrary and capricious.
“My clients call to the county. They say, ‘I want to do this.’ Then someone at the county says, ‘Oh, no, no, no, you can’t do this, because in this ordinance it says, this.
“Well then, what we find out is that they got kind of half of the information,” Moody said.
Mitigation is possible
“The process is intended to be a dialogue. ‘We identified a potential hazard here. How can we engineer a way (to solve the problem)?’,” Blair said.
“There’s not a whole lot of bright, fast rules. But there’s ways to acknowledge that there might be a harm that should be addressed,” she said.
Blair added: “Prior to the pre-application meeting, the airport operator is to be contacted with a proposal for what they’re doing. The airport operators have a lot more expertise as to what type of things would affect safe airport operations and safe air navigation.
“They’re making comments to staff, which staff would consider.”
“This is the opportunity, much like an alternative standard, where if there is a harm that’s identified — that’s legitimately a problem under FAA standards, then you can engineer away the problem.
“A perfect example of that is what’s happening across the street from Tampa North Aero. There was a discussion there … In that situation, we actually met with the future applicants of property in the runway protection zone at that airport.
“They had initially gone to the airport … and said, ‘Hey, we’re thinking about putting some self-storage in here, what do you think?
“The owner of the airport said he was OK with that.
“Then they came to the county and said, ‘We think we want to do professional office, instead.’”
“Well, it’s probably not a good idea to have people in buildings 40 hours a week near the airport,” Blair said.
Once the airport operator learned of the proposed change, the operator told the county that it wouldn’t be a good idea to have an office in a runway protection zone, the attorney said.
The applicant responded to the county’s concerns by removing the buildings from that area and using that area instead for a parking lot, street and dry detention area, Blair said.
Hernandez also noted applicants need to go to the FAA and get a declaration that their plans do not pose a hazard to air navigation. Plus, she said: “There is opportunity for mitigation.”
Zephyrhills has a set of rules, too
Blair noted: “With the Zephyrhills Airport, we do have an interlocal agreement with the city that is going to be updated as part of this process. There are some things in their actual regulations that are incredibly out of date.
“They are very happy with the ordinance. So, we’d like to incorporate some of this into how they operate.
“We’ve also pointed out in this ordinance, here, about the two different jurisdictional issues going on here, so that folks coming to the county realize that they do need to go to Zephyrhills, as well. Zephyrhills have their own rules that apply.
“Zephyrhills has some really great plans for expansion. They’ve received state funding. They’ve updated their master plan. They’re building a new hangar.
“We’ve actually invested money there, through (Pasco) EDC (Economic Development Council) in projects there, so, a lot could potentially happen out there,” Blair said.
The airport overlay district ordinance is scheduled for first reading by the county board on July 11, with an adoption hearing set for Aug. 8.
Published July 12, 2023