Sunday, December 17, 2017
News Roundup

Pasco commissioners reject concrete plant expansion after protests from residents

NEW PORT RICHEY — Neighbors opposed to an Odessa concrete plant seeking permission to allow more intense uses on its property won a key battle Tuesday when the County Commission denied the owners' request.

A + Concrete, which had been mixing wet concrete since 2011 due to a county error, wanted a land use change to bring it into compliance with the county code. But that would require that the area, which had been zoned light industrial, be changed to heavy industrial, which conflicts with a county policy not to approve such uses next to residential areas.

A + sits on State Road 54 at Black Lake Road in Odessa, right next to the 311-home Ashley Lakes neighborhood.

"This is a very difficult request to evaluate," planning director Richard Gehring wrote in a memo. Approving the request would put the land use in compliance with activities currently going on and subject the property to regulations from state and federal agencies. But it would allow a heavy use close to homes.

The policy forbids that "to protect residences from the adverse impacts of smoke, fumes, vibrations, light, glare, odors and noise."

Despite the commission's vote against changing the long-term growth plan, they put off a companion request to rezone the property until Jan. 28 after A + submitted a thick stack of documents on the matter. The county attorney will review them and report to the board.

Staff initially recommended approval with conditions. But that got changed to denial in the end after nearly a dozen residents showed up at an earlier meeting in September to oppose the request.

They said dust had infiltrated their homes and settled on their cars, and the trucks made too much noise in the morning and at night.

On Tuesday, they reemphasized those concerns.

"Dust builds up when children don't clean their rooms," said Aaron Dakoff, who brought an outdoor thermometer that was coated in a thin layer of sticky concrete. "This is cement."

He said all day long, residents must endure heavy truck brakes and concrete in the air. "It's relentless."

The nearly 4.5-acre site was originally part of a 14-acre parcel, with a zoning of agricultural residential in 1987. In 2003 it was changed to a mix of light industrial and heavy industrial with some conditions.

The property was used as a staging area for the widening of SR 54 and was leased by the Florida Department of Transportation.

In 2010, A + took over the lease and started a dry mix business. It asked to have a wet-mix tower in 2011.

Thinking this was a continuation of an existing use, county staff signed off on the permit. That was a mistake, as a ready-mix requires a heavy industrial land use.

A code enforcement violation brought the error to the attention of staff. The business has been cited for an illegal construction trailer as well as illegal signs.

Steve Booth, attorney for A + owner Rob Brue, said his client was misled by county staff that his new wet mix tower was okay, only to be told later after spending more than $1 million that it wasn't.

"We've been led down the primrose path," Booth said. He added that the only difference between a wet mix and a dry mix is "we add water and it improves things."

But most of the commissioners didn't see it that way. Chairman Jack Mariano said Brue's own attorneys should have advised him that wet mix operations were not allowed in light industrial areas.

But Commissioner Ted Schrader, who was the lone no vote on denial, said he feared the county's errors might leave it open to a legal challenge.

"I would agree with the residents this is not a compatible use for this particular area," he said. "But staff has made numerous errors. This puts the county at monumental financial risk. We can't ignore that."

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