DADE CITY — Developers seeking to build a politically unpopular landfill in east Pasco County have sued the county and its zoning administrator, accusing officials of trying to block the project.
Angelo's Aggregate Materials said in a 39-page complaint filed Monday that the county acted in a "concerted effort" to stop the landfill by holding up applications until officials could change the rules to make it more difficult for a landfill to be built east of Dade City. The lawsuit also said the actions were done "intentionally without proper motive or a rational basis" and that the county had acted in bad faith in its dealings with the Largo-based company.
Attorneys for Angelo's could not be reached Tuesday. County Zoning Administrator Debra Zampetti, who was named as a defendant, also could not be reached. County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder said the county had not received a copy of the lawsuit and declined to comment.
In the complaint, attorneys for Angelo's describe an orchestrated attempt to derail the proposed landfill that would eventually cover 1,000 acres near the Green Swamp, which feeds drinking water sources of nearby areas. The project was opposed by environmental groups, nearby landowners and public officials in neighboring cities and rejected for a permit by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
When the company first proposed the landfill in 2006 to help solve the county's growing garbage problem, Pasco officials were receptive and told executives to pursue county conditional use permits, the lawsuit said. It also said executives were told the property's zoning allowed for a household garbage landfill. The company also went ahead and applied for state environmental permits as county officials requested, even though most projects typically get county approval first.
However, the county's support waned after officials signed a contract to transport garbage to an Osceola County landfill, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit also quotes County Commissioner Ted Schrader, whose district covers east Pasco, as saying he opposed the project.
It said Schrader spoke publicly "that the county could and should deny" Angelo's permit applications. It cites several newspaper stories, including the St. Petersburg Times, in which Schrader refers to Angelo's proposal as a nonissue and quoted him at a campaign rally saying "Rest assured that I will vote 'no' when it comes before us because it is not the right thing to do."
Schrader declined to comment Tuesday on the lawsuit, but called Angelo's decision to buy the land without required permits in hand "a poor business decision."
"No one forced them to buy that land," he said.
By 2009, with little notice to Angelo's, the company said, county staff approved changes to the county's long-term growth plan: Now landfills for household garbage can only be built on land designated as public or semipublic. Angelo's property is agricultural/residential.
The changes were approved at a meeting of top staff that prompted a vacationing land-use attorney to fly back to Dade City to log in the company's objections. They later received approval from commissioners and the state Department of Community Affairs. During that time, the lawsuit alleged that zoning administrator Zampetti had put the applications for county permits "on hold," which the rules don't allow her to do.
Angelo's said it has spent more $30 million on developing its proposed landfill "to its detriment" because the county changed the rules midstream. County records show it spent about $15 million buying the land off Old Lakeland Highway near Messick Road.
Angelo's asks a court to order the county to process Angelo's application, pay its costs and prevent the county from saying the company's zoning forbids a landfill. "Angelo's will continue to suffer irreparable harm if a permanent injunction is not granted," it said.
Carl Roth, a leader of the anti-landfill group Protectors of Florida's Legacy, said the lawsuit was proof of Angelo's persistence. The company is also appealing DEP's rejection of its permit application. The case is pending before an administrative law judge.
"They're basically thinking the court system is going to allow them to do whatever they want to do, which is kind of surprising," Roth said.
Staff writer Molly Moorhead contributed to this report. Lisa Buie can be reached at (813) 909-4604 or firstname.lastname@example.org.