The Pasco County Metropolitan Planning Organization has directed Pasco County’s real estate department to explore the possibility of making an advance right of way purchase of some land on the southwest side of the intersection of U.S. 41 and State Road 54.
The board took the action at its Nov. 9 meeting, after Pasco County Commissioner Seth Weightman raised concerns about the future availability of the site.
“Pasco has a potential Live Local project site coming in at (State Road) 54 and (U.S.) 41, potentially on the southwest side of the road,” Weightman said.
“If this goes through — if that happens, we have no control over this — how can we plan to find the solution for the 54/41 improvements that need to happen?
“So, we talk about our five-year long-range plan, within a matter of months, there could be a crucial piece of property that could be used to improve that intersection lost to multifamily development. Then what happens?” Weightman said.
Pasco Commission Chairman Jack Mariano asked David Goldstein, the county’s chief assistant county attorney, if the county could change the site’s designation to prevent a Live Local project.
Goldstein responded: “You could rezone it to office. Office is probably immune from Live Local, but you might be effectively downzoning the property. You would be doing it, maybe against the property owner’s consent. So, I don’t know if that would create a cause of action against the county.
“Because if it’s C2 now and we downzone it to office, then they argue that we’ve taken away their C2 rights.”
Live Local is a law the state Legislature adopted last year, intended to increase the supply of multifamily for renters meeting income eligibility requirements.
The only zoning designation Goldstein thinks might be safe from the state’s Live Local provision would be Professional Office 1 or Professional Office 2.
Weightman told Goldstein: “My greater concern is that it impacts a significant project that this board, that this county, is trying to figure out.”
Goldstein responded: If it appears the site will be needed for the improvement project, the county and Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) should be looking to see if funds are available for advance acquisition.
“When we were doing the widening of State Road 52, we did a lot of advance right of way acquisition before we ended up widening the road,” Goldstein said.
Weightman added: “Timing is of the essence here. If we think we’re going to need this, we need to start looking at it today. Because it’s game time.”
Goldstein noted that “the issue of whether they’re entitled to do Live Local or not may come up in the eminent domain process. You’re looking at what is the highest and best use of the property when you go through eminent domain. My position is that it should be acquired under its current zoning, which is C2 (commercial 2).”
The chief assistant county attorney added that he doesn’t know if FDOT has begun doing advance right of way acquisition for the U.S. 41/State Road 54 improvement yet.
Justin Hall, with FDOT, said a feasibility study does show a need for the northern portion of the property and that also has been identified for a potential stormwater detention pond site.
But the FDOT doesn’t have the clearance yet to pursue eminent domain for the project, Hall said.
“We could approach them to see if they’re a willing seller. If the property owner is a willing seller, that’s a little bit of a different story,” Hall said
Goldstein suggested directing the county’s real estate department to find out if the property owner is a willing seller, and if so, the county and FDOT could look to see if they can come up with the necessary funds.
“We buy land all of the time for roads, as voluntary transactions. We did that for Overpass Road. We did that for (State Road) 52,” Goldstein said.
“If the property owner is probably trying to sell it for apartments, that means they probably don’t want it anymore for its current uses. So, it’s kind of on the market, I’m guessing.”
“Maybe there’s an opportunity for us to purchase it now — certainly before it becomes another use,” Goldstein said.
Weightman made a motion to direct Pasco County’s real estate department to explore acquisition of the site, which was seconded by Mariano and approved by the board.
A report on the issue is expected at the Pasco MPO’s board meeting in January. The Pasco MPO is Pasco’s lead transportation planning agency. Its board is made up of elected leaders from Pasco County, Dade City, Zephyrhills, New Port Richey and Port Richey.
Published November 15, 2023