Pasco County Commissioners adopted a change to the county’s future land use map, and also approved a rezoning in the Sierra Pines area — despite concerns by neighbors that the planned project will add to the area’s flooding problems.
The rezoning and land use change involve 164.8 acres, on the south side of State Road 54, approximately 2,000 feet east of Meadowbrook Drive.
The property is surrounded by the Shoppes at Ballantrae Village to the north, single-family residential to the south and west; Long Lake Ranch, and a proposed Pasco County school site to the east.
The land use and zoning changes had received recommendations for approval, and had been going through the process without any apparent opposition.
Joel Tew, an attorney representing the applicants, told commissioners that the land already is entitled to develop 1,534 apartments and the requests would lower the proposed intensity to 400 apartments, and a maximum of 150 single-family homes and 150 townhomes.
The front of the site would retain its office and developments, with the apartments and gathering space behind them.
Opponents turned out in force at public hearings held on the two related requests.
Jessica Stempien, of 1102 Wildwood Lane, appeared on behalf of the Sierra Pines Coalition, which works on stormwater and flooding issues in the community.
“We are highly concerned about this development,” she said. “We’re concerned that it’s going to increase the intensity and the duration of the stormwater events in our neighborhood.
“We would like to propose for a delay, or a slowing down of this process, so we can get and have a third-party reviewer, an engineer, an advocate on our side when we sit down and talk with those developers. We’re just asking for time and transparency.”
Kevin Marks, of 1530 Woodfield Court, told commissioners: “It just gets worse every year. I think we need to fix the issues before we create any more issues.”
Scott Slone, of 17135 Gunn Lock Road, said “we bought property as a dream. And, year after year, that dream has eroded away because of the water that flows into our residences, erodes our property.”
His wife, Lisa Slone, said she can’t get out of her neighborhood during flooding events.
“I love my neighborhood, but I need to be able to leave my neighborhood,” she said.
“It’s not just flooding. It’s congestion and quality of life that needs to be thought about here, too,” she added.
Patrick Kennedy, of 17320 Raintree Road, owns one of the parcels that backs up to the planned 150 townhomes, which would be 15 feet from his property line.
He worries about negative impacts on his property values, and a loss of privacy for his family.
“We’re not saying, don’t build the townhomes. We’re saying, set them back. Give us some space,” Kennedy said.
Dr. Jessica Greer, of 17324 Raintree Road, said her family owns 2.5 acres backing up to the proposed townhomes.
“When we bought the lots there, were told that there would be a wildlife corridor right behind us. We were told that would be 100 to 150 feet,” she said. She and her husband wanted to buy land to provide a buffer to their property and were told it would cost $500,000 an acre, she said.
Other neighbors reminded commissioners how deluged their neighborhood was when Irma hit, dumping 8 ½ inches of rainfall. It was impossible for people to get in or out because of the floodwaters. They also asked commissioners to balance progress with the way of life they enjoy, and to fix existing flooding problems before adding projects that could make them worse.
Commissioner Jack Mariano asked county staff if additional drainage requirements could be imposed to protect the neighbors, as the county has done in some previous cases.
County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder agreed stricter standards have been required in some cases, but the attorney added: “You’ve never done that with an entitled project.”
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey reminded her colleagues that the applicant is reducing the amount of development that has already been approved for the site.
She said that’s an important first step.
The commissioner, whose district includes Sierra Pines, said “we’ve been trying to deal with flooding, very serious flooding that’s going on in Sierra Pines. There’s no doubt about it.
“We’ve been peeling away the layers of challenges in Sierra Pines.”
However, she added: “It’s not Smith54’s (the applicant) responsibility to fix the woes of Sierra Pines. It is Smith54’s responsibility to not make it worse,” Starkey said.
Both Starkey and Commissioner Mike Moore said they want better buffering provided for the properties backing up to the townhomes, and Tew agreed to a condition that would involve the county staff in addressing that concern.
Tew also agreed to a condition that provides the neighborhood 45 days to review and comment on the drainage and buffering plans, before they are implemented.
Published July 17, 2019