The Pasco County Planning Commission has recommended approval of changes that would allow increased development on the edge of the Town of St. Leo, despite objections from Town leadership.
Planning commissioners unanimously recommended that a change to the county’s comprehensive land use plan be approved, as well as a change to zoning on 175 acres at the southwest corner of State Road 52 and Prospect Road.
Richard Christmas, mayor of St. Leo, urged planning commissioners to reject the proposed changes — which had received a recommendation of approval from the county’s staff.
Christmas said the increased density is not compatible with St. Leo’s rural character. He also cited concerns about disrupting the view shed the town now enjoys.
Planners and representatives for the applicant, however, said the proposed use of the land would be an appropriate transition between the Villages of Pasadena Hills and the Town of St. Leo.
The proposed land use change would allow a maximum of 900 dwellings, 340,000 square feet of commercial and 60,000 square feet of office.
The proposed master unit planned development zoning, which is being requested on the same acreage, would allow 600 dwellings, 340,000 square feet of commercial and 60,000 square feet of office.
The applicant requested 600 dwellings for both the land use and zoning changes, but the county’s staff recommended 900 dwellings for the land use change, to allow consideration of additional residential development if there’s a demand for it in the future, Barbara Wilhite, an attorney representing the applicant, said at the May 9 public hearing.
The land is currently undeveloped, with the exception of a barn.
County planners said the development provides a transition between the Villages of Pasadena Hills and would step down in intensity, as it gets closer to the town. They also said the plan would provide bicycle/pedestrian connectivity to existing trails and would seek to prevent visual intrusion.
Christmas told the planning commission that the town has been concerned about the proposed density of the plan ever since initial discussions with the applicant in December 2018.
“The Town is OK with the current zoning. The current zoning is compatible with the zoning that’s across the street, State Road 52, which is Lake Jovita, one dwelling unit per gross acre. That’s what the zoning is right now. We’re perfectly fine with that.
“What is being proposed is going beyond what their current rights are to something way more dense,” he said.
In addition to the 900 units contemplated in the land plan change, there would be “the equivalent of 3 ½ Home Depots and 60,000 square feet of office space,” Christmas said.
“The Town (of St. Leo) requests denial of the proposed comprehensive plan change,” the mayor said.
David Goldstein, chief assistant county attorney, asked Christmas if the Town of St. Leo had objected when the Villages of Pasadena Hills was created.
Christmas said there would have objections to density like this on the town border.
But, Goldstein pressed him: “Did you show up at any county public hearing?”
Goldstein continued: “It’s just interesting to me that nobody from the Town was there when we were approving the Villages of Pasadena Hills, including when we were trying to decide whether to include this piece of property. The Town wasn’t there at all.”
This property initially was going to be included in the Villages of Pasadena, and was only dropped at the last minute, Goldstein said.
“The question for you is, if this was so egregious for this to happen, where was the Town the day whether we were deciding to keep it in Pasadena Hills or not? Where were you?” Goldstein said.
But, Christmas told Goldstein that was not the issue before the Planning Commission.
Matt Armstrong, representing the applicant, told planning commissioners: “Density in the right place and in the right way can be a good thing because it does conserve the land, instead of just spreading it (development) out all over the place, without any kind of respect for what’s there.”
The new State Road 52 alignment goes through the property, and there will be an increased demand for development in the area, Armstrong said.
The master plan for the zoning also call for decreasing the density, as it approaches the edge of the Town of St. Leo, Armstrong added.
“We’re residential to residential. That’s compatible.
“When you are up against the Town, it’s only single-family. You can’t have apartments there, you can’t have multifamily there. There can’t be townhouses there,” Armstrong said.
The pedestrian and bicycle connections will make it possible for people to get to where they need to go without having a car, he said.
Attorney Wilhite reminded planning commissioners: “The comp (comprehensive) plan frowns on a Res-1 density because that is the definition of sprawl. It’s inefficient land use pattern.
“Density is not your enemy,” she added. It allows for master drainage plans, streetlights, parks and sidewalks.
“We’re proud of this project. We think it would be a very good project and a good fit,” she said, asking the Planning Commission for its approval.
But, Christmas repeated his concerns.
“To be clear, the Town’s not saying no to development, just that the development next to the Town needs to be compatible with the Town, sensitive to the topography and is not an eyesore,” Christmas said.
Planning commissioners unanimously recommended approval of both the land use and rezoning for the property. The Pasco County Commission will have the final say on the requests.
Published May 15, 2019