A divided Pasco County Commission has continued a request for a conditional use that would allow a maximum of 248 apartments on the west side of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, south of Eagleston Boulevard.
Adventist Health Systems Sunbelt Healthcare Corporation submitted the request, but the hospital chain intends to sell the 16.24-acre site to an apartment developer.
The land currently is zoned for commercial uses.
Development of apartments is allowed in the commercial zoning district, but the applicant first must secure a conditional use permit from the county.
Debate on the request at the county board’s Jan. 12 meeting revealed that commissioners are not on the same page, when it comes to this request.
In a departure from routine, the hearing also included a fairly detailed refresher from Nectarios Pittos, the county’s director of planning and development, relating to the board’s directive on future apartment development along the State Road 54/State Road 56 corridor.
That directive does not apply to the property in question.
Still, Pittos went over many of the statistics relating to apartments that were included in the board’s workshop on apartments in February 2020.
The proposed apartment development would be built next the BayCare Hospital Wesley Chapel, which is expected to open in early 2023.
The new multifamily development features three four-story buildings, with a total of 248 units, according to Pete Pensa, a professional planner from AVID Group, representing the applicant. The site plan calls for active and passive recreation areas, the preservation of a significant amount of open space, and a connection to an existing multi-use trail on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.
Pensa also noted that the current zoning would allow uses that would generate more traffic than the requested zoning would create.
Representatives from the future BayCare Hospital Wesley Chapel and Blue Heron Senior Living, neighbors to the proposed apartment complex, both submitted letters of support for the project.
Attorney Barbara Wilhite, representing the apartment developer, noted that the proposed use meets the criteria in the comprehensive plan and land development code.
She also cited a recommendation of approval for the request from the Pasco County Planning Commission.
Commissioners Mike Moore and Jack Mariano, however, opposed the request.
Moore made a motion for denial, citing sections of the county’s land development code and land use plan that relate to economic development.
“The proposed conditional for multifamily will consume land and transportation capacity that the county must ensure is available for employment-generating land uses,” Moore said.
Mariano supported Moore’s motion.
The proposed development would be located directly on an arterial roadway, Mariano said, “with the connection that we have right there, it screams for something commercial — a job generator.”
Moore and Mariano weren’t the only ones opposed to the proposed apartments.
Seven emails in opposition were read into the record, and 17 other emails in opposition were received and filed.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey and Commission Chairman Ron Oakley, however, said the site seems suitable for apartments.
Starkey said the site is close to two transportation corridors and it also is within walking distance to nearby jobs.
While Moore has repeatedly complained that the area is oversaturated with apartments, Starkey disagreed with Moore’s position.
“I’m not sure this area is overbuilt for this price point. I think most of the housing around here is actually very expensive,” Starkey said.
Oakley said an apartment development on the site makes sense.
“I think the project fits,” Oakley said. “I don’t think the traffic would be a problem. I don’t think there’s going to be any issues with the schools. And, I think it fits in the neighborhood where it’s located. It’s a good project, as far as I’m concerned.”
Initially, when commissioners voted on Moore’s motion for denial, there was 2-2 split, with Commissioner Christina Fitzpatrick not voting.
She asked for greater clarification, and after receiving it, voted against Moore’s motion.
She said she agrees with the project because it will be next to the hospital, and within walking distance.
Next, Mariano moved for a 60-day continuance, which Moore seconded.
Fitzpatrick supported the continuance to give her time to thoroughly study the issue.
That motion passed on a 5-0 vote.
After the vote, Oakley said, “I feel like I’ve been in a workshop I shouldn’t have been in.”
Published January 20, 2021