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Pasco approves 180-day apartment moratorium

The 6-month pause will allow county staff time to fully assess apartment inventory already on the books.
Shonda Belton, 45, left, walks with a friend, who declined to be identified, near the Altis Grand at The Preserve apartments Wednesday, April 14, 2021 in Odessa. A Pasco County officials discussion turned into a larger philosophical argument recently about how much is too much multifamily development, and whether previous commissions made the right land use decisions.
Shonda Belton, 45, left, walks with a friend, who declined to be identified, near the Altis Grand at The Preserve apartments Wednesday, April 14, 2021 in Odessa. A Pasco County officials discussion turned into a larger philosophical argument recently about how much is too much multifamily development, and whether previous commissions made the right land use decisions. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published May 5
Updated May 5

DADE CITY — For months now, Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore has talked about how those who live in his commission district have bombarded him with concerns about the glut of apartments in the Wesley Chapel area and the problems they are causing.

On Tuesday, the other commissioners got to hear for themselves, as dozens of emails were read out loud urging the board to put a halt on new multifamily developments in a portion of the county for the next six months to give county staff time to answer some basic questions.

Many talked about the gridlock on area roads, having to wait for multiple lights just to move down the highway. Others spoke about coming to their community because of good schools, schools now overburdened by new apartment dwellers, sending some children into portables or turned away from the school they wanted. Still others say the quality of life diminishes as green space is replaced with concrete.

Antonio Ponzi, who lives in Seven Oaks, wrote about his worries of how more apartments will be a burden on current residents. “Please don’t add to the traffic until additional infrastructure is in place,” he said.

Another Seven Oaks resident, Justin Hodnett, urged commissioners to be informed before continuing to approve new development. “Stop deciding without having the data,” he said.

A resident of the area since 2016, Sharon Banyard said that the features that drew residents to the area, including green open spaces, are disappearing. “At some point, you’ve got to stop and ask, when is it going to get overcrowded,” she said.

Also weighing in to support the moratorium via email was Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco. He recently asked commissioners for a chance to have regular input into new development projects. He told commissioners he has “long championed a well-thought-out approach to growth,” noting that new apartments mean more people, more traffic and more services that must be provided by his office.

Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco
Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco [ DAVE KRAUT/STAFF | Tampa Bay Times ]

Nocco also raised the issue of Pasco being the bedroom community to Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. Increasing residential development in Pasco means the need for more law enforcement and traffic services in the county. Meanwhile, the tax base connected with job creating businesses is located in other jurisdictions.

Every new large apartment community, Nocco said, “is like adding a new city.”

The only opposition to the moratorium came from Eric Garduno of the Tampa Bay Apartment Association. He said that the demand for apartments in Pasco was high compared with the availability. He also urged commissioners to consider other factors in their formula, including how quickly new apartment complexes fill up with tenants.

The commissioners voted unanimously to approve the moratorium. The zone to be included is roughly 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.

Also on Tuesday, commissioners voted to change the land development rules about getting multifamily approval to build on commercially-zoned land. The rule has been that all an applicant needed to do was get a conditional use approval, rather than the more expensive and time-consuming rezoning.

The commission’s unanimous vote on that topic takes away the option for a conditional use, unless the multifamily units are low-income housing, located along the western portion of the county known as the West Market Area or if it is part of a development that has residential units above commercial and office units in the same building.

“I feel today is a very important day,” Moore said. He has argued that when the moratorium is over, the county will know how many apartments are in place, how many are under construction and how many approvals are already granted for future development.

Commissioners also adopted the idea that the study include an assessment of vacancy rates of existing apartments to give a full picture so the county can determine the impacts apartments will have in the moratorium area into the future.

“We can’t just think about today,” Moore said. “We have to think about five years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now.”