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Temporary halt on new Pasco apartments gets first nod by planning commissioners

Planning commissioners recommend approval of a 180-day halt to new apartment approvals in a central and south portions of the county.
Pasco's apartment construction boom in the south central portions of the county may see a temporary halt as county officials try to determine current inventory and future need.
Pasco's apartment construction boom in the south central portions of the county may see a temporary halt as county officials try to determine current inventory and future need.
Published Apr. 2
Updated Apr. 2

DADE CITY — Pasco County planning commissioners agreed this week that the county should pause consideration of more apartment applications for central and south portions of the county for the next 180 days.

During that time, county staff would inventory how many multifamily dwelling units already exist or have already been given development approval. It’s a question that has been asked for several months by Pasco County commissioners. Planning commissioners also want the county staff to take a look at occupancy rates for existing apartments, so that a full picture of unmet needs can be documented.

In February, commissioners had a lengthy discussion about the proliferation of multifamily units in the central and southern portions of the county. Commissioner Mike Moore, who represents that district, has repeatedly voiced concern that with apartments already in place, units under construction and approvals already granted for future multifamily units, the area has sufficient inventory to meet both current and future needs.

Moore said he hears from constituents frequently that the area is oversaturated with apartments. The zone to be included in the moratorium is roughly from south of State Road 52, north of State Road 54, east of U.S. 41 and west of the line that defines the commission district between Moore and County Commission Chairman Ron Oakley.

But Eric Garduno of the Bay Area Apartment Association said that at this time, Pasco should be encouraging, not discouraging, apartment development.

Pasco, he said, has just 15,000 available apartment units, compared to 133,000 in Hillsborough County, and studies have shown that Pasco needs to add approximately 1,700 new units each year to keep up with demand.

Young professionals and empty nesters want the amenities available in upscale apartments, and those complexes provide just what Pasco County’s growth management plan calls for in the area, including high-density housing with nearby customers for retail establishments and workforce for businesses, Garduno said.

Development attorney Joel Tew said the moratorium violates county policies for development in the area targeted. He said that imposing even a temporary stop to development was “intellectually dishonest” because it stalls development before the research begins on whether there is oversaturation of such land uses.

Tew said county studies have already shown the need for more apartments and that county officials pushing for this wanted the delay “while somebody tries to cook the books.” He said the move is “simply a bad message to send to businesses.”

David Goldstein, chief assistant county attorney, said completed county studies didn’t look at the entire area now being considered, and none gave the full inventory of what is already built and approved.

Planning commission member Jaime Girardi asked how the information can help determine need if vacancies in existing apartment complexes aren’t also considered. Planning commissioners agreed to add that as a request for the county commission to consider before they voted to recommend the moratorium.

In a related action, the Planning Commission also agreed to recommend an ordinance which would not allow commercially-zoned property to seek a conditional use approval to build multifamily units except in specific circumstances.

That land use would only be considered for affordable housing, units built in the western portion of the county where the commission now provides incentives for apartment construction, and when apartments are sought as part of a multi-use building, such as one with retail or office space as the ground floor.

County commissioners will consider that ordinance on April 20 and make a final decision May 4.