Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey tackled a number of key topics as the featured guest speaker of the East Pasco Networking Group’s breakfast meeting earlier this month at the Sarah Vande Berg Tennis & Wellness Center in Zephyrhills.
She first addressed one of the more visible happenings — the county’s surging population growth, and its residential and commercial development.
“Obviously, you know, the county is on a tear,” Starkey opened to the group of a dozen-plus citizens during the Sept 14 gathering. “Florida’s No. 1 engine for growth is getting people to move here, and you see that happening in our county.
“We’re growing like crazy,” said Starkey, whose district seat includes southwest and south-central Pasco. “Every month we’re breaking the record on the amount of permits that we’re giving, compared to last year.”
The commissioner said she regularly receives calls from landowners who want to know if the county plans to approve their land to build apartments.
The commissioner said that Pasco is actually facing an apartment shortage, despite the many Class A luxury apartments that have gone up in recent years.
Yet, the commissioner emphasized that county leadership and decision-makers are becoming “very, very picky” on where new apartments will be placed in the area.
“We do not want to give up commercial and industrial property for apartments,” she said.
The Pasco County Commission currently has a mortarium in place for new applications for multifamily development, which includes a portion of the county that’s essentially in Wesley Chapel and Land O’ Lakes.
Starkey said county leaders have instead encouraged would-be developers to build multi-family housing in more needed areas, such as Hudson, Holiday and along U.S. 19.
It has been a challenge, as Pasco’s apartment shortage is leading to steep rent increases, Starkey said.
The county needs to have affordable housing, particularly for first responders, public servants and working-class residents, Starkey said.
“Where are our policeman and our nurses and our teachers going to live? Because when this cycle comes around again and they go to sign a new lease, they’re going to be moving out.
“They’re going to be moving to Hernando (County), they’re going to be moving to Citrus (County), and they’re going to be driving down here, and I really worry about that, so there needs to be a balance,” she said.
The apartment development industry is having trouble keeping up with Pasco’s population surge, too.
Starkey noted experts in that field all but say they build only about 1,500 units per year in the county due to the equipment and logistical hurdles.
Besides being a bedroom community for many Hillsborough County workers, the county also has experienced an influx of people moving in from the Orlando area, Starkey observed.
She believes the Orlando influx can be attributed to that region’s hospitality industry taking a hit during the course of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Orlando is sending us people like crazy,” she said. “I’m thinking when all the hospitality stuff closed up, people left and came here.”
The commissioner also touched on various county road construction projects, including the delayed Diverging Diamond Interchange project at State Road 56 and Interstate 75 in Wesley Chapel.
This work stoppage was a result of contractor D.A.B. Constructors defaulting, and ultimately filing for bankruptcy and going out of business.
The diverging diamond project has since been assumed by a bond company and awarded to Superior Construction Company Southeast LLC.
“I was very glad to see, driving up here, that they were at work on the diverging diamond,” Starkey said. “It’s going to be at least a year behind, but it is moving again.”
The new estimated date of completion is the summer of 2022, according to the Florida Department of Transportation’s website.
Published September 29, 2021