DADE CITY — Pasco commissioners agreed Tuesday to pursue returning a county-owned site to the developer with the stipulation it be used for a business with high-paying jobs.
Commissioners, in a 5-0 vote, directed county staffers to work out an agreement that would give the 4-acre site back to HR Pasco LLP, which owns the ComPark 75 industrial park in Wesley Chapel. The parcel is near the back of the park, with frontage on Interstate 75.
HR Pasco had deeded the land to the county in 2006 as part of an earlier agreement that its predecessor had with Pasco.
At the time, county officials had set aside the land for a public safety operation, most likely a hangar for the Pasco Sheriff's Office.
Those plans have not panned out — the hangar is being built near the Land O'Lakes jail — so HR Pasco took the unusual step of asking that the land be returned.
The agreement commissioners want to pursue would require HR Pasco to sell the land only to a so-called target industry, a business offering salaries above the average county wage. Officials could also decide to put a maximum limit on the sales price.
That agreement must come before commissioners for final approval.
County attorneys said officials' options include exchanging the site for another property; conveying the site to a nonprofit such as the Pasco Economic Development Council; selling the site to the highest bidder; or keeping the land and conveying it for a target industry.
Commissioners Pat Mulieri and Henry Wilson were most vocal about getting the land back to HR Pasco.
"We haven't used it, we're not going to use it, so what's the right thing to do?" asked Wilson. "It was given to us for one reason."
County Administrator John Gallagher noted that the county got the land as part of a 1999 deal with the first owner.
Back then, the original landowner was trying to get rid of a cloud over the title to the entire property: Pasco's so-called "water rights" on the land, a relic of the Tampa Bay water wars. As part of the agreement, Pasco agreed to give up those rights in exchange for a 4-acre site it could use for public safety.
That original owner, however, never got around to deeding the land to the county even though the agreement remained in place. HR Pasco LLC, a successor company, deeded the land in 2006 and paid to build a 1-mile road that leads to the parcel.
Barbara Wilhite, an attorney for HR Pasco, brushed aside Gallagher's point about water rights, saying the county had just been clearing the title and did not actually give anything for the land. That's because, she said, the water rights belonged to Tampa Bay Water. She said the deal was not "official," nor was it advertised.
She said she should know: She was an assistant county attorney familiar with the deal at the time.
"Quite frankly it was conveyed for a public safety site," she said.
Commissioner Ted Schrader cautioned against setting a precedent by returning land. He also suggested the county make HR Pasco pay $351,000 for the land. That's the cost of the hangar construction in Land O'Lakes. Property Appraiser Mike Wells values the 4 acres at $361,074.
That proposal didn't garner support from any other commissioner.
Mulieri, who made the motion to convey the land back to HR Pasco, rejected an idea pitched by Gallagher for the county to keep the land and let the Pasco Economic Development Council market the property to a business.
She said the park owner moved in the same circles as other businesses and could more easily "corral" a good business.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.