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Lawsuit attacks county's demands for land development

TRINITY — A lawsuit in federal court that argues a Pasco County land rule demands too much from developers has echoes of another legal claim that recently went against the county.

F.A.K. Enterprises of Lutz filed suit Dec. 9 arguing that a 16-year-old zoning stipulation amounts to a taking of its property because it requires anybody developing the land to build a nearby road and intersection.

The tab for the work, estimated at more than $1 million, has scared off developers and rendered the eight acres between Mitchell Boulevard and Pemberton Road virtually unmarketable, said F.A.K.'s attorney, Brian Bolves.

"It's expensive and time consuming, and it's just wrong to impose that condition," he said.

F.A.K.'s legal argument sounds similar to one by developer Hillcrest Properties, which asserted that a Pasco land ordinance amounted to a taking of its property.

The ordinance required Hillcrest to set aside land for roads as a prerequisite to developing a commercial site at Old Pasco Road and Interstate 75. The developer argued the roads had nothing to do with its property and sued in federal court, alleging a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

In April, District Judge Steven D. Merryday sided with Hillcrest and blasted the county ordinance as "coercive and confiscatory … and constitutionally offensive both in content and operation."

Bolves said his client likewise is being treated unfairly. The work demanded by the county has nothing to do with F.A.K.'s property but instead involves Nature's Hideaway, a nearby subdivision. It would give residents a new entrance to their development.

"The problem with the improvement is that it does not relate to the use," Bolves said. "It's related to the neighborhood."

The county attorney's office declined to comment about the case.

Counties and cities statewide frequently demand that developers shoulder road improvement costs near their developments. The idea — that development affects traffic so developers should help alleviate the problem — isn't new and has spawned a spate of developer fees in recent years.

"The public has accepted the fact that they want growth to pay for itself," Pasco Commissioner Ted Schrader said. "Whether a transportation impact fee or a developer's contribution, it's the developer's responsibility."

But the fees have prompted a backlash by some developers.

It's unclear whether F.A.K. has a deal pending for the site. Bolves said only that his client was trying to sell the property. Efforts to reach F.A.K. owner Frederick A. Karavas were unsuccessful.

F.A.K. acquired the property in 2008 after the county foreclosed on the previous owner, Cypress Walk Developers Inc. Steven Gordon, the former owner of Cypress Walk, said the company at one point considered developing the site for a drug store and medical offices.

Building a road to Nature's Hideaway would have given residents access to the drug store. The zoning was changed in 1998 to allow commercial uses and the stipulation was added that a road and intersection be constructed if the site is ever developed.

Gordon said subsequent traffic studies indicated too little traffic on Mitchell to support a drug store. After that, the housing market crashed, land values plummeted and the property sat idle — until F.A.K. picked it up at a tax sale.

"It was different 20 years ago," Gordon said. "People thought the area would grow more, Mitchell would become a major boulevard and would grow more, but it didn't happen."

Gordon said he sees no reason now why the county should stipulate that a road be constructed. Housing values haven't fully bounced back, he said.

"I think it's really unreasonable," Gordon said. "If he doesn't need that road and doesn't need access to it, why should he build it?"

Lawsuit attacks county's demands for land development 01/03/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 3, 2014 6:49pm]
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