NEW PORT RICHEY — The residents of Heritage Lake say they were told the 41 wooded acres south of their neighborhood would be a nature preserve, even though the land had been zoned decades ago for multifamily housing. When a developer proposed an apartment complex, neighbors worried about the implications. Would the neighborhood they loved and took pride in be overrun by speeding cars and dipping property values?
They took action, signed petitions and formed a group: We Are 5533 Strong Inc.
The group lost Round 1 on Thursday, when the Development Review Committee upheld county staff's approval of the Oaks Apartments at Riverside Village. The neighbors now plan to appeal to the County Commission.
"This is not over," said Ralf Brookes, attorney for We Are 5533 Strong Inc.
The meeting was well-attended, despite the absence of a key ally — state Rep. Mike Fasano, who is in Tallahassee.
In September, county staffers approved plans for the Oaks Apartments. The first phase would include six two-story units, a 3,000-square-foot clubhouse, swimming and splash pools, a playground, picnic pavilions, tennis and basketball courts, a mulched car wash area, a 2-acre park with an open play area, parking lots and seven garages. The apartments would be on Amazon Drive, just south of Heritage Lake.
The neighbors' appeal was based on a few concerns, including increased traffic, potential flooding, compromised child safety, noise and lowered property values.
David DeLoach, an engineer hired the county to independently review the concerns about drainage, said new models showed the project would not have any adverse effects on drainage issues.
Brookes agreed with the findings but said he wanted to make sure the complex, proposed by Clearwater-based Scherer Development, would follow through. He wanted a condition that required an "as built" specification and monthly maintenance around the property.
Scherer Development, represented by attorney Barbara Wilhite, said it was open to maintaining an area around the property but would have to get permission from homeowners to do so.
Brookes' concerns centered around the drainage basin, ditches and weirs, some of which were overgrown with vegetation and not regularly maintained.
Brookes also raised the issue of zoning. The site has been woods for years but was zoned multifamily in 1985. In 2005 it was approved for 102 condominiums, which residents did not oppose. But the housing bust stalled the project, and the land was sold to Scherer.
Planning and Development Administrator Richard Gehring said the single-family zoning issue doesn't stand because "it's zoned for what it is," and the committee can't change that.
Residents also said the traffic in the area was already heavy, adding that more buildings will bring more cars and could endanger children. Brookes said he'd like to see speed bumps and other traffic safety devices implemented.
Representatives for the development said they conducted traffic studies, taking into account all of the proposed apartment buildings, and found they would fall within acceptable county standards.
Some residents, like 73-year-old Wayne Parzik, disagreed.
"I'm a 30-year resident, and I take pride in where I live," he said. "I go out to see the sun rise and set. I built my own house. I walk my dog 2 to 3 miles every night. The traffic is really heavy (now)."
Parzik also said apartment dwellers don't feel the same as residents do about the community.
"I'm concerned with the property value dropping," he said. "People that live in apartments don't take the same pride in where they live. They don't care."
Jon Silman can be reached at (727) 869-6229 or firstname.lastname@example.org