The idea of creating a subdivision in Land O’ Lakes for catastrophically injured veterans, and surviving families of fallen first responders and for Gold Star families has broad appeal — but even with the popularity of the cause, a proposed rezoning for the project is meeting resistance.
The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation has proposed the first neighborhood in the nation specifically designed to serve its recipients be located on about 75 acres, on the south side of Parkway Boulevard, about one-half mile east of Ehren Cutoff. The site is between the Panther Run and Dupree Lakes subdivisions.
The foundation was established 20 years ago by Frank Siller, to honor the sacrifice of his brother, Stephen Siller, a firefighter who laid down his life to save others on Sept. 11, 2001.
Matt Mahoney, executive vice president of the foundation, explained the concept of the project — via a remote feed during an April 22 meeting of the Pasco County Planning Commission meeting.
“Our recipients are all gifted these homes. These are mortgage-free homes,” Mahoney said.
“We have the financial wherewithal to do this. The land was donated to us,” Mahoney said. “We’re in a strong financial situation to move forward with this project.”
The foundation has a solid track record, said Cyndi Tarapani, a professional planner representing the applicant.
But residents in the adjacent Panther Run neighborhood and members of the Pasco County Planning Commission raised objections to the proposal.
Those concerns initially were aired during the April 22 meeting, which was continued until May, to give the applicant time to respond to the concerns.
At the May 20 planning board meeting, the issues were much the same.
Would-be neighbor Tim Robinson, of 6444 Paw Place, put it like this “I can’t say enough how much I like what Tunnels to Towers is doing for our servicemen and women and our first responders, a very admirable endeavor.
“My main issue is compatibility,” Robinson said. “We would have a bunch of homes butting right up to half-acre lots and I really don’t feel that is compatible at all.”
Planning Commissioner Jaime Girardi also expressed concerns about compatibility.
David Goldstein, chief assistant county attorney, told planning board members that the request seeks an R-4 zoning district, a Euclidean zoning that allows up to four houses per acre. The county cannot attach conditions to Euclidean zoning requests, Goldstein said.
Instead, the county can ask the applicant to voluntarily add deed restrictions.
The planning board asked the foundation to place larger lots on land next to the adjacent Panther Run lots. It also asked for one-story homes to be built there, to address privacy concerns.
Planning commissioners also wanted to guarantee that the land would be used by the foundation’s program beneficiaries.
At the May 20 meeting, Tarapani said the foundation has agreed to deed restrictions that call for fewer lots and larger lots, with one-story homes along the edge of the neighborhood adjacent to Panther Run.
However, she said her client would not agree to ownership restrictions.
Without that restriction, there is no guarantee that the foundation won’t sell the land to another developer, Goldstein said.
Panther Run neighbors reiterated their objections.
Shelby Carrero, of 6448 Paw Place, told the planning board: “After reviewing the deed restriction, I am disheartened to say the least, that our valid concerns we have expressed several times have not been taken into consideration by the applicant.
“The fact the applicant has ignored its future Pasco County neighbors, as well as the Pasco County Planning Commission, should speak volumes as to what their plan was this entire time.
“They have refused to put in their deed restriction that they will not sell the land to a developer, or that they will not sell the homes to people that are not military veterans, first responders, or their families.
“Therefore, the applicant’s narrative doesn’t hold true.”
She added: “It was an insult to see their updated site plan. The previous plan had 22 homes lining Panther Run. The updated plan has 19.”
Finally, she said, “We cannot treat them any different than a big developer because we now know that this is a possibility.
Sabrina Fernandez, 22402 Panther Run Court, asked commissioners to deny the request.
“The truth is that this applicant has ignored the request from this board, and I do appreciate you taking our thoughts into consideration a couple of weeks ago. This is very emotional for us because it’s going to affect our lives greatly.”
Other opponents said they don’t want two-story homes on smaller lots lining up behind their large lot. They also cited concerns about a loss of privacy.
Tarapani challenged the assertion that the proposed rezoning is incompatible.
“Single family, next to single family, is by its very nature, compatible,” she said. Plus, she noted, as part of its deed restriction the foundation has agreed to erect a 6-foot buffer wall between the new subdivision and its Panther Run neighbors, even though the county’s code doesn’t require it.
County planners recommend approval of the request, but the planning board voted to recommend denial, with Planning Commissioner Chris Williams dissenting.
The issue now goes to the Pasco County Commission, which has final jurisdiction on land use and zoning issues.
Published June 02, 2021