Developers for master-planned communities Epperson and Mirada won unanimous approval for updates on their projects in the Connected City.
But, the vote by Pasco County commissioners on Dec. 12 left unresolved a dispute between Metro Development Group and Pasco County Schools over the value of a Mirada school site.
Also unresolved is the timing for construction of the Mirada school, which will have students from kindergarten through eighth grade.
Metro Development has agreed to donate a minimum of 44 acres in Mirada for the future school. However, school officials can opt for less acreage.
Developers pledged about 11 acres in Epperson for an elementary school.
But, it is the Mirada school site that is at the center of the differing opinions.
The appraised value of the land affects the calculation of Metro’s impact fees and credits, and the revenues available to the school district to build the school.
The credits will be based on the actual acreage given to the school district and a fair market value appraisal of the site.
School officials want to rely on 115 percent of the Pasco County property appraisal. They say that is a general standard used in other school site negotiations.
Instead, Metro Development will be able to get private appraisals, which generally tend to be higher than county appraisals.
That puts the school district at a disadvantage, said Ray Gadd, the district’s deputy superintendent.
“It’s a big issue when the economy is growing because land is at a premium,” he said.
Metro Development representatives see it differently.
Epperson and Mirada are within the borders of the state-approved Connected City corridor, which encompasses about 7,800 acres in northeast Pasco.
The state authorized, and the Pasco County Commission approved, a land development code for Connected City that includes a package of special conditions and incentives.
The special district is expected to attract commercial and residential projects that foster high-end technologies and innovative jobs.
Metro Development controls about 35 percent of the special district’s land.
Attorney Joel Tew, who represents Metro Development, said both sides can sit down and reach a mutual agreement on land values. Issues of where to build the school and the amount of land needed also are negotiable, he said.
“We’re happy to do that,” Tew said. “We clearly have to provide a school site that works.”
Another issue is the timing on school construction.
Metro Development is eager to get a school as soon as possible.
But, school officials say they can’t simply start building until Mirada is filling up with residents, and students.
“I can’t build schools where I don’t have bodies,” said Gadd.
The question is when will Mirada reach “critical mass” with enough students to justify opening a school, he said.
If Metro Development and school officials can’t reach an agreement on their issues, then the land would revert back to Metro Development.
Tew said developers might then seek out a charter or private school to locate in Mirada. (Charter schools must gain approval by the school board, but are operated privately).
Gadd hopes the negotiations on the school site begin sooner rather than later.
“The longer it goes, the higher the cost (of the land) goes,” Gadd said.
Published January 3, 2018