NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County commissioners don’t think they’ll stop the proliferation of new apartment complexes along the county’s southern tier, but they don’t think they want the public to help pay for them, either.
On Tuesday, commissioners began the process of killing the county’s transportation fee incentive for construction of new multifamily housing. It is a subsidy that amounts to $309 per unit in one of the county’s designated urban service areas along the State Road 54 and SR 56 corridor from Trinity to Wesley Chapel.
“Nobody’s going to stop building if we get rid of those incentives,’’ said Commission Chairman Mike Moore, the biggest critic of the apartment-building boom. “We’re just giving away money. … You can call it a subsidy all you want. It’s free cash’’ for developers.
A Tampa Bay Times count in December 2018 found nine luxury apartment complexes, either proposed or already under construction, that would bring more than 2,500 multifamily units to the Odessa-to-Wesley Chapel corridor.
The public discussion during a workshop came just 14 months after commissioners renewed the subsidies until 2023. Even then Moore expressed dissatisfaction with the new apartment complexes lining SR 54 and SR 56.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey also wondered why hotels received the incentive. Hotels were not part of Tuesday’s discussion.
The county’s transportation surcharge, known as a mobility fee, is assessed on most new developments to pay for road construction and transit costs tied to growth. But in an effort to reinvigorate a then-struggling economy, the 2011 formula waived fees for industrial development, new office buildings and hotels. It also reduced the surcharges for new housing and many businesses by using property taxes to subsidize the transportation costs. The largest subsidies went to developers building in high-density urban service areas along the U.S. 19 and SR 54/56 corridors.
Tuesday, in a wide-ranging discussion that touched on designated uses in the county’s long-range land plan, affordable housing, redevelopment along U.S. 19 and the propriety of offering incentives for mobile homes, commissioners indicated a willingness to remove new multifamily housing from the list of subsidized uses. Under the new plan, the per-apartment fee will increase: 7 percent to $4,280 in urban service areas; 17 percent to $7,064 in the suburbs and 28 percent to $9,276 in rural areas.
The change will be subject to public hearings before the advisory Pasco Planning Commission and county commissioners before a final vote -- likely at least 90 days away. If approved, commissioners said they would steer the money budgeted for the subsidies toward affordable housing and infill development in west Pasco.
The sentiment came after commissioners heard multiple parts of the county’s future land-use plan address multifamily housing as a way to discourage low-density sprawl and encourage higher-density residential uses near employment centers and future transit stops. Eleven of the 13 categories in the land plan allow for multi-family housing.
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Though highly visible and growing, apartment complexes are a small portion of the county’s housing stock. The land plan’s residential districts show one acre of multifamily apartments for every 17 acres of single-family houses.
And, in a two-year period ending in April 2019, the county issued nearly 9,800 building permits for residential construction, with new apartment units accounting for 1,971 of the permits, or 20 percent of the new housing stock. The majority of permits, nearly 6,800, were for new single-family homes. The rest were for townhouses or condominiums.
Still, Moore didn’t mince words in trying to discourage more apartment complexes in the Land O’ Lakes and Wesley Chapel vicinity.
"We’re over-saturating this one area, this one market area,'' he said. "People in the area can’t stand it. It’s ugly. It’s disgusting. It’s bad development. It’s bad for the county. It’s bad for the future. ''
Eric Garduno, head of the government affairs committee for the Bay Area Apartment Association, declined comment, saying he wasn’t familiar with the commission’s debate.
In the meantime, more keep coming. Naples-based Stock Luxury Apartment Living proposed this week to build new apartments on vacant land west of the Sam’s Club on State Road 56 at the entrance of the Seven Oaks development in Wesley Chapel. The property, owned by DeBartolo Development, is at the front of the neighborhood that Moore calls home.