The Pasco County Commission has denied a request that would have allowed 320 apartments and 20,000 square of commercial office/retail use in Seven Oaks, a master-planned community in Wesley Chapel.
Commissioners voted 3-2 to reject the request for a modification to Seven Oaks’ master plan, which would have set the stage for a resort-style development by Stock Luxury Apartment Living, a developer based in Naples.
Commissioner Mike Moore made the motion to deny the request, which was seconded by Commissioner Ron Oakley. Commissioner Jack Mariano also voted against the proposal.
Commission Chairwoman Kathryn Starkey and Commissioner Christina Fitzpatrick disagreed with their colleagues, voting against Moore’s motion.
The action followed hours of public testimony.
Applicant Keith Gelder, of Stock Luxury Apartment Living, wanted Seven Oaks to be the location for his first Pasco project.
He told county board members: “We do high-quality, large amenity, lifestyle-driven projects.”
Gelder said plans called for a resort-style pool, multi-story buildings with commercial uses on the first floor, a dog park, a parking garage and angled street parking for customers using the shops.
His presentation included photographs, to give commissioners an idea of what to expect. He also mentioned that developments his company has done include amenities such as golf simulators, fitness centers, a catering kitchen, spin room, outdoor cabanas and gaming.
“We want to bring a beautiful project here to Pasco,” he said. “We feel like this is the right project and right location.”
Seven Oaks residents disagreed.
Resident Barbara Foss said she doesn’t oppose additional apartments in Seven Oaks, but objects to the location of the proposed project.
“We do have a place that is zoned for apartments. It’s on the north end of our property. There are several streets there — for entering and existing our subdivision,” Foss said.
Zachary Besso, another opponent, questioned the need: “We have plenty of luxury apartments in Pasco County. Do we really need more?”
Seven Oaks resident Michael Garbutt told commissioners: “There are many reasons to oppose this change to the master plan.”
One primary problem would be traffic impacts, he said.
“It is easy to look at the roads and conclude generically that they’re adequate for the new residents, but when you have local knowledge of how the roads are actually used, then you see there will be a problem.
“As residents, we’ve learned how to get in and out of our subdivision as efficiently as possible. “So, we can foresee how 500 new residents are likely to use the roads. Do we really want to add more traffic? I don’t think so.”
Jon Tomsu, representing the Seven Oaks Resident Council, presented documents containing 1,220 signatures of opposition to the proposed development.
“It just doesn’t fit,” Tomsu said.
He also questioned the economic formula that was used by the county planning staff as part of its recommendation for approval.
Initially, economic impact calculations were based on 86,000 square feet of commercial retail/office as compared to 320 apartments. An updated comparison was based on 60,000 square feet of commercial office/retail, compared to 320 apartments and 20,000 square feet of commercial office/retail.
“We keep changing the playing field,” Tomsu complained.
The new formula bothered Mariano, too.
The commissioner put it this way: “The scales were tipped in the statistics here, to make the mixed use look better than what the commercial retail would have been, by changing that input.”
Opponents had plenty to say
Neighbors also raised issues about the proposed parking garage. One said it would be an eyesore; another said it would pose security risks. Still others questioned if the plan had adequate parking and surmised that overflow could end up using the Wesley Chapel Sam’s Club parking lot, which they said would be unfair for that business.
Commissioner Oakley said the size of the development was too big for the proposed site. He also voiced concerns about potential safety hazards.
In calling for denial, Moore said “the staff and the applicant both failed to conduct any service consumption cost analysis, therefore the staff and the applicant failed to demonstrate that the project will contribute more to the county in revenue than it will consume in services.”
He also noted the conversion “will place additional unplanned and unmitigated demands on the school, library and park systems.”
Existing entitlements for office or retail would not create those demands, Moore said.
Plus, Moore said, converting the land’s use would be contrary to the legitimate public policy of preserving land for employment-generating uses.
Starkey, however, voiced discomfort with voting down the request.
“I think it’s being denied for different reasons. We heard that people thought it’s going to be ugly. People think we don’t need any more apartments,” Starkey said.
She thinks Pasco needs more apartments — not fewer — and she thinks locating apartments on the edge of a master-planned development is appropriate.
“To put multifamily on a corner like (State Road) 56, where transit is going to be, I think that’s where it needs to be.
“We have said that we want vertical mixed use. I think that’s a great use of our limited space.
The county has a process that allows consideration for a swap of uses within a master-planned unit development — based on using a land use equivalency matrix (LUEM), which ensures that the impacts are equivalent.
Attorney Joel Tew said the county has granted 15 other requests to convert uses within Seven Oaks.
That drew Fitzpatrick’s attention: “What concerns me is that in the past 15 LUEM conversions, not one had been disputed or denied.”
Tew also noted that while his client had to undergo a public hearing process, another applicant — represented by attorney Barbara Wilhite — received an administrative approval on a similar request.
He also said the reception to his client’s request would have been different, if it had been in a different location.
“Under normal circumstances, you would have given them a hug and a kiss and thanked them for coming to your fair county,” Tew said.
The attorney said that if the proposed request “wasn’t exactly where it is (in Seven Oaks)” that the board “would recognize this as the poster child for the type of vertical mixed-use development that you have begged my client and other development clients to bring to Pasco County for you.”
Moore lives in Seven Oaks and championed the county’s current temporary moratorium on new applications for multi-family development.
Published January 19, 2022