DADE CITY — Pasco County commissioners took the first step Tuesday to expand commercial and light industrial development north along Interstate 75 from Blanton Road to the Hernando County line.
Residents in that rural area were not happy, submitting 156 pages of letters and arguments opposing the effort to change the site’s current designation as an employment center and agricultural zone. That means it can currently accommodate farms, ranches and homes.
The County Commission agreed to send a large-scale change in its comprehensive plan, which is the county’s blueprint for future land use, to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. If state agencies impacted by the plan don’t object and the commission gives a final okay, the next step is for the land owner to seek the zoning changes. The planning commission must review those changes, and the county commission must approve them.
The changes would be made to a 90-acre swath starting at the northeast corner of Interstate 75 and Blanton Road and running up the east side of the interstate to the Hernando County line. Property records show that the land is owned by a trust under the Land Service Corporation.
The land was purchased because of its designation as an employment center, said Larry Guilford, who said he is a beneficiary of the trust. The plan is to develop the southern 14 acres for commercial uses at an interchange with amenities such as gas, food and lodging.
He specifically said that there are no plans to build a truck stop — something many residents opposed in their letters to the county.
Guilford also said the light industrial on the remainder of the parcel is planned “to encourage economic development along I-75.”
Residents voiced concern about losing the scenic qualities of Blanton Road: The wildlife and wildlife habitat and safe corridors for those who bike along the rural road. They also fear the potential crime brought in from commercial areas and changes to the nature of the wide-open, residential areas not allowed in the rural overlay designation — a district with special conditions, in this case to preserve its rural nature — that was applied to their community by the county.
“At some point who will want to bike or do Sunday walks up here,” wrote resident James P. Lyons. “The county loves to promote its motto ‘Open Spaces Vibrant Places.’ Pasco County is evolving warp speed into the dreaded ‘Strip Mall Spaces and Congested Places.’
"Our acres, with the most beautiful trees and undulation in Pasco, may slowly evolve into an area like West Pasco unless some brakes are applied.”
Nearby resident Edward Dutkiewicz argued to commissioners that the change didn’t match their own land use rules. The change to bring industrial uses into the neighborhood, he said, does not preserve the rural life style.
The county’s planning staff countered several concerns of residents. While they’re concerned that the change in designation would jeopardize the area’s rural overlay, planners argued that the “employment center” designation in place already “enables a mix of commercial and other non-residential development.”
In addition, the staff report says light industrial “mimics the employment center allowances.” The report also states such light industrial projects “typically locate along intense transportation corridors like I-75."
Commissioner Ron Oakley said the employment center designation has been in place for several years now. He made the motion to approve the transmission of the change request saying, “I think it’s in line with what has been proposed there in the future.”
The vote was unanimous.