Residents living near Lake Thomas are fighting a proposed townhome project, on approximately 42 acres, on the west side of U.S. 41, about one-half mile north of Ehren Cutoff, in Land O’ Lakes.
Barbara Wilhite, an attorney representing the applicant, appeared at the Jan. 23 Pasco County Planning Commission hearing, seeking a change to the county’s land use plan to increase the potential density on the site from three dwellings per acre to six dwellings per acre.
Obtaining the land use change is just the first step in the process. A rezoning also would be required before the townhomes could be built.
Wilhite said her client is aiming for a 218-unit townhome project on the property, which represents a density of 4.8 units per acre.
She said meetings have been held with neighbors and, as a result, conditions will be included with the rezoning request to address concerns that have been raised.
Several neighbors voiced objections during the public hearing.
Shirley Schmidt, 21133 Marsh Hawk Drive, Land O’ Lakes, who lives at The Preserve at Lake Thomas, said 300 feet of her property is immediately adjacent to the subject property.
The developer has listened, but she still objects, she said.
“He’s made revisions to address many of our concerns, but there is one overwhelming objection that cannot be mitigated if this project is approved — density, and its impact on traffic.
“The Ridge Road extension project, which is going forward within a few years, will dump a huge flow of traffic onto (U.S.) 41, just north of where this project is located.
“That alone will result in an unbearable increase in the traffic volume. Now, add yet another 400 vehicles from this project, and you’ll be one step closer to total gridlock.
“The traffic light at 41 and Ehren Cutoff is dangerous already. Residents from the proposed townhouse development, who need to go north, will be turning south onto 41 and crossing three lanes of traffic in the space of approximately 200 yards, to do a U-turn. That southbound turn lane creates a blind zone for those headed north and attempting to turn into our subdivision.
“We, in The Preserve at Lake Thomas, lost a resident not less than three months ago to a horrible accident, with this exact scenario.
“Please protect the rights and safety of the existing residents with your ‘No’ vote on this project,” she urged planning commissioners.
Scott Hitt, of 21008 Little Lake Thomas Road, is concerned about impacts of intensifying development.
“You get a bunch of people piled in on top of each other and you’re going to get stuff that starts happening. Right now, we leave our doors unlocked. We have stuff all over the place. Nothing goes missing. It’s kind of a cool place. It’s a gem that’s hidden away in here.
He urged commissioners to reject the request: “It’s not a good fit.”
“We’re not against development. Development is good, just not R-6.”
Planning Commission Chairman Charles Grey asked: “What is good?”
“R-3 (the current land use) is good,” Hitt replied.
Joe Seidle, of 20955 Lake Thomas Road, has lived in the area since 1982.
“We’re not saying we’re anti-growth. We’re saying, ‘It’s too many units,’” Seidle said.
“I haven’t heard one compelling need to change the land use. It’s Res-3, why are we changing it?”
Kathy Eshleman, of 5419 Shell Road, turned in two petitions with signatures from 99 people who couldn’t attend, but are opposed to the request.
She voiced her opposition, and she told planning commissioners she would prefer the development of single-family homes, within the existing density.
Other speakers objected to the intensification of development and voiced concerns about the
potential impacts on traffic, drainage and the quality of Lake Thomas.
Changing Land O’ Lakes’ character?
Ed Bly, of 21117 Lake Thomas Road, asked planning commissioners to consider the precedent that change would set. “This decision will forever change all of Land O’ Lakes, not just the Little Lake Thomas community,” Bly said.
Jane Smith, of 5353 School Road, Land O’ Lakes, is worried about the impacts to the lake, as more people move into the area. “I’m concerned about the runoff, with 218 units.”
Wilhite brought a team of experts to talk about her client’s intentions for the project.
Alexis Crespo, a certified land use planner with Waldrop Engineering, said the client recognizes that a binding project plan and conditions are important, in order for his request to be successful.
Many changes have already been made to the plan, in response to concerns that have been raised, she said.
For instance, the proposed access to the site will be directly from U.S. 41.
Also, the units will be clustered internally to limit impact from the buildings on adjacent single-family residences.
The units also will be limited to four-unit townhomes, two stories in height, she said, and the project will have substantial buffering.
The conditions for the proposed rezoning also address concerns about boat access to Lake Thomas, she said.
“This will have a passive boardwalk for residents, but no motorized or non-motorized boats will be able to access the lake from this project.”
She said the proposed project is consistent with the county’s vision for infill development in areas where there are water, sewer, schools and roadways to serve it.
She also noted that townhomes represents a diversity in type of residential development, and said many beautiful master-planned communities within Pasco County regularly incorporate housing diversity within their communities.
Steve Henry, of Lincks & Associates, said the additional traffic generated from the change compared to what’s currently permitted would have a negligible effect on U.S. 41.
He also noted the developer plans to put a right-turn lane in and a right-turn out lane at the project’s driveway.
Roy Mazur, professional engineer with WRA Engineering, said the project would not be allowed to cause flooding to on-site or off-site property, or to create adverse impacts on water quality.
“Even though a lot of the site will be impervious — there will be concrete, asphalt, buildings — our discharge in the developed condition cannot exceed that the discharge of the existing condition. That’s why the (retention) ponds are there,” Mazur said.
Wilhite also noted that the installation of the boardwalk will prevent access to the lake.
Chief Assistant County Attorney David Goldstein noted that Crespo had presented a site plan that had more detail than is typically included in a master unit plan development.
He asked Wilhite if the zoning request for the master plan unit development will have a detailed plan that will be adopted with the zoning.
Wilhite said her client is willing to document commitments, but hasn’t finalized the plan that will accompany the rezoning request.
“Nobody likes us to say things and then not do them. I get that. That’s not our intent,” Wilhite said.
Planning Commissioner Michael Cox asked Wilhite if her client is committed to proposed conditions contained in the master plan unit development narrative, including no access onto Little Lake Thomas Road, no boat access onto Lake Thomas and buffering requirements.
Wilhite said: “That’s correct.”
“It seems to me that these conditions address a ton of the concerns of residents,” Cox said.
Wilhite also noted: “The boardwalk concept was put in place as a means of enforcing what we say, which is no motorized, or non-motorized access to Lake Thomas.”
It provides a barrier to keep boats out, she explained.
Chairman Grey said, “We’re here really to talk about the number of units we want to allow on the site. Personally, I think maybe R-6 is a little bit too intense.”
The planning commission voted 4-3 to recommend approval of the requested land use change.
Commissioners Richard Tonello, Peter Hanzel and Chairman Grey voted no.
The issue now goes to the Pasco County Commission, which makes final land use and zoning decisions in the county.
The County Commission is scheduled to consider the request on Feb. 18 at 1:30 p.m., in the board chambers at West Pasco Government Center, 8731 Citizens Drive in New Port Richey.
Published February 05, 2020