The Pasco County Commission has approved a project with 280 apartments and 49,500 square feet of commercial, on the north side of State Road 54, between Wesley Chapel Boulevard and Collier Parkway.
Commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the rezoning request, with Commissioner Mike Moore objecting vociferously.
Attorney Clarke Hobby represented the A.G. Spanos Companies and the Aiken Trust on the request, which involves a 25.4-acre site, about 2 miles west of the interchange of State Road 56 and Interstate 75.
Both county planners and the Pasco County Planning Commission had recommended approval of the request.
During the Planning Commission public hearing, Hobby told that board that A.G. Spanos Companies has built more than 100,000 multifamily Class A apartments across the United States during the past 50 years.
The main access to the site will be from the intersection of State Road 54 and Oak Grove Boulevard, an existing signalized intersection.
The commercial portion is planned near the front of the property, to take advantage of the traffic light.
Objections were raised to the proposed rezoning during the Planning Commission meeting by some neighbors in the Twin Lakes community, but no one objected during the County Commission’s hearing.
“We got the consent of the adjacent homeowners and we did that by working hard,” Hobby said.
The attorney said his client has been working with the neighborhood and with county staff to improve the project.
The applicants agreed to provide a long access road to improve interconnectivity in the project, they reduced the height of the apartments and they created a large setback, Hobby said.
The attorney also noted that the project fits in with the county’s vision for the South Market Area, which calls for higher density, mixed-use development clustered around existing arterial roadways.
The idea is to avoid spreading out density like peanut butter, and instead create a true urbanized area, Hobby said.
Planning expert Kelly Love, director of entitlement planning at Clearview Land Design in Tampa, also spoke on behalf of Hobby’s clients.
“The plan is for the South Market Area to evolve from a suburban bedroom community development pattern, with inefficient utilization of land, to one which incorporates verticality, density and urban form,” she said.
“The Aiken mixed-use amendment before you today, contributes to this land use evolution.
“We’re trying to put the density, the mixed-use and the connectivity in an infill development, which has transit right at its front door,” she said.
And, while Moore has consistently voiced opposition to the proliferation of apartments being developed in the State Road 54/State Road 56 corridor, Hobby said that a market study was done and it shows that Pasco County’s multifamily is not overbuilt.
“Our overall renter percentage ownership compared to other suburban or urbanized areas is very low. We’re at roughly 22.5 percent; Manatee is at 27.8; Hillsborough is at 40.
“So, we are way below everyone else. We are in a healthy market. There’s a demand there. We’ve got a great project. We’ve got a great builder,” Hobby said.
But, Moore reiterated his objections.
“It’s no secret about my disdain for the amount of apartment complexes that are going up along the 54/56 corridor, especially east of Collier Parkway up to Bruce B. Downs,” Moore said.
“My concern is that what this board is doing and continuing to do, along with what previous staff members have done with the South Market Area, is you’re going to be very disappointed, 10, 15, 20 years down the road,” he said.
He then rattled off a list of 13 apartment developments within a 5-mile radius.
Moore also said the residents and business owners who live within the area “are sick and tired of apartments on (State Road) 54 and (State Road) 56. It’s a fact. I hear it all of the time.”
When people come to Pasco County and head on State Road 56, they see apartments, Moore said.
“The market might be good right now, but you’re saturating the market in that one small section. This county is big. It’s a very large county. If we keep putting them up in this area, we’re going to pay for it,” the commissioner predicted.
He asked his colleagues to take another look at the county’s comprehensive plan and policies in its South Market Area to address the issue.
“We’re rezoning and rezoning and rezoning, to allow MF (multifamily),” Moore said. “When is enough, enough?”
Other commissioners appeared open to having a workshop session to take a closer look at the issue, but when Moore mentioned the possibility of a temporary moratorium until that can be worked through, he found no support.
A temporary moratorium, Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said, would be “pretty drastic.”
“You’re seeing all of this density here because the market needs it. We have 100 people moving to Pasco a day. Where are they supposed to live?” Starkey said.
There are also people who are downsizing and people who can’t afford to buy a house, she said.
Still, she added, “I don’t mind taking a look at it to see, ‘What is that right number?’
“And, we purposely put density on the (State Road) 54 corridor to save us from sprawl, right, and to allow one day to support transit,” Starkey said..
Commissioner Mike Wells said he agrees that the board needs to take a look at the issue.
At the same time, however, Wells noted: “I think the market decides, not us.”
Commissioner Jack Mariano said, “We were trying to avoid sprawl. Do I think that we’re getting what we thought we’d get? I will say, no.“
He thinks there are “way too many apartments.
“I would much rather see us take another look at this. Condos would be a lot better. Fee-simple townhomes would be a lot better. I want people invested in their community,” Mariano said.
Commission Chairman Ron Oakley agreed that the board should hold a workshop to take a closer look.
At the same time, commissioners said they want to take a look at the county’s mobility fee incentives and discuss which categories should receive them.
No date has been set for that workshop yet.
Published October 30, 2019