Wednesday, May 23, 2018
News Roundup

St. Leo waits to tackle annexation request after determining if Lake Jovita can opt out

ST. LEO — One thing at time.

That's how St. Leo town commissioners will handle two separate annexation issues that have caused tension between the town and its wealthiest neighborhood on one hand and the town and Pasco County officials on the other.

Lake Jovita, part of which is in the town, wants out of. The Iafrate family, who own a 179-acre swath of land that abuts the south side of the town, wants in.

And the county, which has a stake in the Iafrate property being the site of a critical new road, wants a seat at the table as the town leaders decide whether to adopt the Iafrate land into the town limits.

Commissioners voted 4-0, with Mayor John Gardner absent, to take the matter of Lake Jovita to the county's legislative delegation. The local group of state lawmakers will then decide whether to take a bill written by St. Leo's attorney to Tallahassee for a vote. If approved, the 175 acres and 85 Lake Jovita homes in the town would become Pasco County's jurisdiction.

With Lake Jovita's fate in limbo, commissioners decided it made sense to wait on deciding the fate of the Iafrates' property.

"I would leave that to new blood," said Commissioner James Wells. He and Commissioner Robert Inslee both live in Lake Jovita and would have to resign if the neighborhood were de-annexed.

The two issues are not related but became intertwined during the past couple of months as a result of timing.

The Lake Jovita controversy is not new. For years, town residents in the gated community, which has 350 more units in unincorporated Pasco County, have grumbled at having to pay taxes to the town in addition to the county.

Efforts to de-annex that previously fizzled have gained more traction in recent months with the election of Inslee and Wells, who have made it clear their constituents want out.

In addition to approving the bill, St. Leo commissioners passed a resolution in support of it. Town Attorney Patricia Petruff added that the delegation also wanted to see a study on the economic impact of the de-annexation proposal along with the bill.

The idea to seek state relief for Lake Jovita residents came from Inslee after commissioners learned that state law prohibited it due to the neighborhood's dense population.

No one spoke against the proposal last week, but Commissioner James Hallett requested that the economic study submitted to legislators focus on what the remaining residents of St. Leo can expect. He called it a "before and after" report.

The decision to postpone dealing with the Iafrates' request, which was made about the same time the Lake Jovita matter was resurrected, came after a plea last week from County Administrator Michele Baker, who said county staff should be involved.

The property in question is agricultural land at the southwest corner of State Road 52 and Prospect Road. Land south of the Iafrate property is set to become the Villages of Pasadena Hills, a master-planned development of 42,000 homes and a half-million square feet of office space. And set to run through the Iafrate property is the new State Road 52, a six-lane highway that will eventually connect to Clinton Avenue in Dade City, which Baker told town commissioners is a key to the county's strategic plan for the whole region.

The Iafrates, though, want to deal with the town rather than the county, which has clashed with the family in their seven-year fight for a state permit to build a household waste landfill outside Dade City. The Iafrates have not said what they want to do with the land abutting St. Leo, but county officials have told the town they don't believe it has the resources to handle planning and delivery of services to whatever might develop there.

Despite the county's opposition to the annexation proposal, the town's plan is to enter into "pre-annexation" negotiations with the Iafrates to discuss what might be built there.

Baker urged commissioners to allow the county to have a role in those negotiations.

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