The Pasco County Commission doesn’t want to impose a moratorium on multifamily development, but board members say that may be their only option if they can’t get relief from the state’s Live Local Act requirements.
The Florida Legislature adopted the Live Local Act last session, as a way of spurring more development of affordable housing.
The Live Local law makes it impossible for local governments to block the conversion of existing commercial, industrial and mixed-use sites to be developed for multifamily use, if the project meets requirements regarding the provision of affordable housing units for a specified period. The law also provides a tax break for such projects.
Pasco has been getting around the issue with new requests for commercial, mixed use and industrial zoning by asking applicants to submit voluntary deed restrictions that would prohibit those lands from being converted to residential development.
But the county has a multitude of sites that already are zoned for commercial and industrial use and developers are coming in, invoking the Live Local Act.
Pasco County board members have repeatedly raised concerns that the Live Local Act is undermining the county’s efforts to increase jobs so local residents won’t have to commute elsewhere for work.
The county has focused considerable effort in recent years — supporting efforts by the Pasco Economic Development Council — to get sites ready for development, and using incentive money to help attract industries to Pasco.
Pasco County Commissioner Seth Weightman brings up concerns about Live Local’s impacts at nearly every board meeting.
But he said learning about two new Live Local sites in the county have pushed him over the edge on the issue.
He talked about those sites during the board’s Oct. 24 meeting.
One site is at Curley Road and State Road 54, where 300-plus multifamily units are planned.
The site had been designated for commercial use.
“It’s completely inappropriate and I’m vehemently opposed to it,” Weightman said.
The second site is at Old Pasco Road and Overpass Road, along Interstate 75.
The site “potentially would have been a fantastic light industrial site, but we’re unfortunately not going to get there,” Weightman said.
“We plan a long time. We have good actors who want to put multifamily. We go through the process of proper planning and make investment.
“This Live Local group that comes in, they’re not community partners. It’s an abomination of what they’re (good actors) are trying to do.
“It’s killing our jobs. It’s killing Pasco County jobs.
“The Live Local bill is not healthy for our community, especially when you’re going after properties like we’ve just shown.”
Weightman said he and David Goldstein, Pasco’s chief assistant county attorney, got together with some stakeholders to ask: How can we figure this thing out, without hurting the people who are following the rules, playing by the rules?
“The news wasn’t good,” Weightman said. In essence, the county’s option would be to impose a moratorium on multifamily development.
The commissioner said the county doesn’t want to do that because it’s not fair to those who are playing by the rules.
“But we’re literally stuck in the corner, and there is one option open, which is an unhealthy option for us to combat this,” he said.
County has limited options
Goldstein said the only thing the county controls under the Live Local Act is land development regulations.
A moratorium could be imposed to give the county time to do the work necessary to pass an ordinance amending its land development regulations, Goldstein said.
Weightman reiterated his outrage: “We’re about to spend a pile of money, widening Old Pasco Road, finally, and in that plan to widen that road and just north of it — schools and everything else, that was planned to be a commercial hub or potential industrial hub, job-creating, right there on that brand new interchange. But instead, it’s potentially 33 acres of some sort of vertical multifamily, not mixed use.”
Goldstein also noted that Live Local developments are entitled to a tax exemption.
“We zoned this property for commercial office, light industrial and hotel before Live Local occurred. That’s what we thought would occur here,” Goldstein added.
Kathryn Starkey asked: “So, how many properties are at risk here? Do we need to go back and do something to those?”
Goldstein: “The only thing I think you could do that would be safe from Live Local might be PO1 and PO2 (Professional Office 1 and Professional Office 2) because Live Local only applies to commercial, industrial and mixed use.”
The county could change the zoning on those properties and let the owners know they can come back to seek their zoning, but would need to voluntarily deed restrict their property, Starkey said.
But County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder said: “You are downzoning property. That’s what you are doing.”
Goldstein added: “To be honest with you, it’d be easier to defend a moratorium, than what you are talking about.”
Starkey asked: “How long can we have a moratorium for?”
Goldstein replied: “You can’t have a moratorium for more than a year. To be clear, the moratorium’s purpose would be to develop regulations that would be applicable to multifamily projects.”
Goldstein continued: “I don’t know if you want to exercise that quote, nuclear option, because it’s going to affect projects that are not Live Local projects.”
Weightman said he knows that a lot of investment has made its way through the process and he doesn’t want those projects to suffer. But he said a moratorium seems to be the county’s only option.
Starkey agreed that the site at Overpass and Old Pasco roads is a prime location.
“This is one of our most valuable corners in the county. I hope the legislators like what they did,” she said.
Starkey puts the blame on the law
“You really shouldn’t put it on the bad actors that are out there. They’re doing what the law allows. I’m sorry. That’s a bad law for us,” Starkey said.
Weightman added: “This is such an awesome opportunity in this 54, Old Pasco Road, Curley Road, to have really something great built — and to get eaten up by discounted residential is just horrible.”
Starkey agreed: “This is a great example to show off the unintended bad consequences. I am very curious to know if we have any other very important corners like this that are at jeopardy.”
Longtime land use and zoning attorney Barbara Wilhite urged the board to avoid imposing any type of moratorium.
“I’ve been doing this all of my life. The conversation about big M, moratorium, kept me up all night. It is a nuclear option, and I would ask you to explore all other options.
“It would just stop everybody.”
Commissioner Ron Oakley agreed with Wilhite’s point: “You’d hurt a lot of people,” he said.
Steinsnyder told the board: “You can do lesser things. We might be able to revitalize the old commercial node concept and create a moratorium on nodes on the major roadways for multifamily, if we’re trying to encourage other things in those corridors.
“You’d be able to describe it to finite property. It wouldn’t cover the entire county, but it would be those critical areas that you’re describing.”
The board expressed an interest in looking at that option.
County Administrator Mike Carballa said his staff could make that a priority, if that’s what the board wants.
“I don’t know what size of a task that is,” Carballa said.
Oakley responded: “We need to get started on it sooner than later.”
Starkey, like Weightman, expressed frustration.
“We paid for that Overpass interchange. We’re paying for the widening of Old Pasco Road. To have this kind of user come in, is just a kick in the gut,” she said.
The issue is expected to be discussed at a tri-county meeting of the county boards of Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, and also during the upcoming legislative session.
Published November 01, 2023