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Pasco commission sides with residents in neighborhood apartment fight

NEW PORT RICHEY ­— Residents of Heritage Lake say they don't want their property values to drop. They don't want more traffic and an increased chance of flooding. And most of all, they don't want a busy apartment complex tucked in the middle of their neighborhood.

On Tuesday, they appealed to the Pasco County Commission, united under the name We Are 5533 Strong Inc., a group formed to address the concerns of the neighborhood. And they brought a powerful ally: Pasco Tax Collector Mike Fasano.

"Say no to the developer," Fasano told county commissioners, "and yes to the residents."

They have circulated petitions and hired an attorney in opposition to Clearwater-based Scherer Development. In March, they went before the Development Review Committee to appeal county staff's approval of the Oaks Apartments at Riverside Village.

They lost that round, but on Tuesday achieved something of a partial victory.

The commission voted to 3-2 to send the issue back to the DRC and make sure issues such as drainage and flooding were looked at adequately.

Residents in the room exploded in applause after the decision.

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 102 apartments would be on Amazon Drive, just south of Heritage Lake.

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, which revived the plans.

Scherer representatives declined to comment after the decision.

Ralf Brookes, attorney for We Are 5533 Strong Inc., told the commission that roads in the area are not compatible with the amount of people the apartments would bring in.

"It doesn't have convenient access to the thoroughfares or city streets," he said.

Commissioner Pat Mulieri spoke directly to the developer, seeking a compromise.

"Why can't you build single housing dwellings and make everybody happy? Show us that you're a developer that cares. Do with the community," she said, "and not to them."

Scherer attorney Barbara Wilhite said the developer carefully followed county requirements on drainage and other issues.

"This is my client's property," she said. "You have an obligation to represent all property owners."

Commissioner Henry Wilson said he was concerned for the well-being of the residents of the neighborhoods.

"I've lost a lot of sleep with this," he said.

Fasano applauded the decision.

"Common sense prevailed today," he said.

Contact Jon Silman at (727) 869-6229, Jsilman@tampabay.com or @Jonsilman1 on Twitter.

Pasco commission sides with residents in neighborhood apartment fight 08/27/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 8:47pm]
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