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Pasco zoning dispute roils countywide commission race

The episode will add a chapter to the rapidly developing county’s debate over growth versus sprawl.
Construction on the Ridge Road Extension in West Pasco. An angry dispute over a proposed apartment complex near the Tanglewood neighborhood has further stirred up what already looked like a competitive race for a countywide commissioner’s seat.
Construction on the Ridge Road Extension in West Pasco. An angry dispute over a proposed apartment complex near the Tanglewood neighborhood has further stirred up what already looked like a competitive race for a countywide commissioner’s seat. [ C.T. Bowen | Times ]
Published Jul. 17
Updated Jul. 20

An angry dispute over a proposed apartment complex near West Pasco’s Tanglewood neighborhood has further stirred up what already looked like a competitive race for a countywide commissioner’s seat.

The episode will add a chapter to the rapidly developing county’s debate over growth versus. sprawl, and possibly an issue to the campaign.

Tanglewood residents vehemently objected last month to a proposed change in the county’s comprehensive growth plan that could allow the 230-unit complex with retail space at Tanglewood Drive and Ridge Road. They said it’s incompatible with their large-lot, semi-rural area.

But commissioners voted 3-2 to take the first step toward the plan change. Christina Fitzpatrick, who already faces a tough Republican primary challenge from Gary Bradford for re-election, was the motion sponsor and one of the three favorable votes.

Pasco County Commissioner Christina Fitzpatrick
Pasco County Commissioner Christina Fitzpatrick

Since the vote, a third GOP candidate, Tanglewood resident Shannon Wittwer, has entered the race, saying she was motivated by the dispute.

Bradford said he would have voted against the plan change, although, “I don’t want to give the impression I’m not pro-business or pro-development. But it has to be smart growth. We don’t want Pasco to look like Hillsborough or Pinellas.”

Gary Bradford, candidate for Pasco County Commission
Gary Bradford, candidate for Pasco County Commission [ Pasco County ]

Bradford lost narrowly to Fitzpatrick in a special primary election last year that was open to all county voters because only Republicans qualified.

Wittwer, 45, is a first-time candidate with no experience in politics, but said, “The fact that I’m in the middle of it and it’s actually happening to me gives me a good understanding of what we need. … I feel we need a regular person in there who will listen to the people and vote in the way they want, not in the interest of big money.”

Fitzpatrick said she voted to “update the comprehensive plan to be consistent with future land use plans” for the area, which hinge on the long-planned Ridge Road extension, now under construction.

Fitzpatrick said that doesn’t necessarily mean she favors allowing the rezoning that eventually will be required for the complex — “I haven’t made my decision at this point on the zoning.”

Waurishuk calls for DeSantis to block Capitol Police plans in Tampa

The Hillsborough County Republican Party and its chairman, Jim Waurishuk, have asked Gov. Ron DeSantis to block the U.S. Capitol Police from opening a branch office in Tampa in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, saying Floridians need “protection” from the federal government.

In response, DeSantis didn’t say he would seek to block the plan but sounded opposed to it.

In this Jan. 6, 2021 photo, insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump scale the west wall of the the U.S. Capitol in Washington.
In this Jan. 6, 2021 photo, insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump scale the west wall of the the U.S. Capitol in Washington. [ JOSE LUIS MAGANA | AP ]

The Capitol Police announced plans on July 6 to respond to the Jan. 6 attack by boosting recruiting, training and equipment and opening field offices to investigate threats to members of Congress.

It said the first two offices would be in Tampa and San Francisco, in the states “where the majority of our potential threats are.”

In a letter to DeSantis this week, Waurishuk called that “an unconstitutional intrusion upon our right as a State to self-govern,” and said DeSantis has the authority to forbid it.

He said the Capitol Police “are not elected or controlled by anyone chosen by the people of Florida,” and told DeSantis, “Our people need you and your protection!”

A response from DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw called the Capitol Police plans “political schemes” and blamed Democrats in Congress.

“We have one question for the Capitol Police in response to their statement about ‘threats’ in Florida … When have our Florida law enforcement (or the FBI) ever fallen short when Capitol Police have asked for help here?”

Buschman files to challenge Gerard

Palm Harbor Republican Debbie Buschman has filed to challenge Democratic Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard.

Palm Harbor Republican Debbie Buschman has filed to challenge Democratic Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard.
Palm Harbor Republican Debbie Buschman has filed to challenge Democratic Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard. [ Debbie Buschman ]

Gerard said in an interview she intends to run for re-election to her countywide seat next year.

Buschman, 52, works with mentoring volunteers for the Pinellas schools and formerly worked for the public defender’s office, connecting clients with mental health and social services. She’s been a Palm Harbor resident since 2002 and an elected Fire and Rescue District commissioner since 2012.

In an interview, she said her motive for running is simply “to serve my community and provide a voice for those who don’t have a voice,” and hopes to emphasize small business, “environmental stewardship” and access to social services.

Gerard narrowly defeated Ed Hooper to win her seat in 2014, but was unopposed in 2018.

“I never take anything for granted. I’ll be working just as hard as the first time,” Gerard said.

Blackmon, others post big early $$

St. Petersburg City Council member Robert Blackmon has raised more than $200,000 in the first six weeks of his mayoral campaign, he said this week.

St. Petersburg City Council member Robert Blackmon
St. Petersburg City Council member Robert Blackmon [ MENGSHIN LIN | Times ]

That includes $101,950 raised through June 30 in his independent political committee, and $93,185 through July 2 in his campaign.

Council member Darden Rice maintains a strong fundraising lead in the mayor’s race, with $257,538 raised for her campaign through July 2 and $407,270 in her committee through June 30.

St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice
St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice [ Photo courtesy of Darden Rice ]

Both also announced endorsements from former council members: Larry Williams and Kathleen Ford for Blackmon, and Jim Kennedy and Virginia Littrell for Rice.

Rice, who’s been zinged by opposing candidate Ken Welch because some of her current council colleagues endorsed Welch, noted in the announcement that Kennedy served four years on the council with her.

In other local political fundraising:

  • Democrat Lindsay Cross raised $51,597 in June to start off her campaign for the District 68 state House seat being vacated by Ben Diamond.
  • In her first month as a candidate, Democrat Eunic Ortiz raised $39,778, including $250 from former high-level Barack Obama adviser Stephanie Cutter, in her race for the District 24 state Senate seat being vacated by Jeff Brandes. Her GOP opponent, Rep. Nick DiCeglie, has raised $91,115.
  • Democrat Allison Miller started her campaign for Pinellas state attorney raising $51,950 in June. Republican incumbent Bruce Bartlett has a long headstart with $163,125.

Smith, Bauman complete job swap

Adam Smith, former Tampa Bay Times political editor and political consultant, and former Tampa mayor’s office spokeswoman Ashley Bauman have completed what amounts to a job swap.

Smith recently left his position as a consultant with Mercury Public Affairs, where he worked on the Ken Welch campaign for mayor of St. Petersburg, to take a position as communications director for the city of Tampa – the same position Bauman formerly held under Mayor Jane Castor and former Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Bauman, meanwhile, has now taken a position at Mercury, and will be working on the Welch campaign.