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Controversial Pasco land use changes find accord with their opponents

Pasco commissioners unanimously approve changes, after negotiations alleviate most opposition.
Historic Pasco County Courthouse
Historic Pasco County Courthouse [ Times (2006) ]
Published Jun. 9
Updated Jun. 9

DADE CITY — Twice in the last few weeks, Pasco County’s Planning Commission heard details on controversial land use changes and recommended that the County Commission deny those applications.

But this week, when the cases came up for a final decision, the County Commission voted unanimous approval. In each case, the turnaround was a flurry of negotiations between the applicants and their opponents prior to Tuesday’s commission meeting.

One case involved the Central Pasco Employment Village, a sprawling 2,400 acre swath of land running south of State Road 52 from the Collier Parkway Extension to Bellamy Brothers Boulevard.

The Central Pasco Employment Village, 2,400-acres to the south of State Road 52, is now at the center of public debate over which should come first: businesses that bring jobs, or housing for people needed to work those jobs.
The Central Pasco Employment Village, 2,400-acres to the south of State Road 52, is now at the center of public debate over which should come first: businesses that bring jobs, or housing for people needed to work those jobs. [ Pasco County ]

Bill Cronin, president of the Pasco Economic Development Council, was opposed to changing language in the county’s comprehensive plan that would have allowed residential development to come to the site before industries were in place. The changes were proposed by the Swope family, one of the employment village’s landowners. They have been in discussions with Lennar Homes about a possible housing development.

Bill Cronin, president of the Pasco Economic Development Council
Bill Cronin, president of the Pasco Economic Development Council [ Pasco Economic Development Council ]

The point of the employment village, Cronin argued, was to ensure that residential growth never supersedes job-creating land uses, such as businesses and industries. Swope family attorney Joel Tew said that the homebuilder would put in the roads and utility infrastructure that new businesses need. But Cronin took issue with that.

He said some industries don’t want to move into already-established residential areas because of potential opposition from neighbors. Cronin also argued he had proof in that he was already negotiating with a company interested in building a 500,000 square foot building on the employment village’s easternmost property.

While the debate at the planning commission meeting had led to verbal sparring by Tew and Cronin, on Tuesday there was no conflict. Newly-negotiated language and the potential for another industrial customer building on the site seemed to smooth over all the concerns.

County staff explained that all future development on the employment village’s parcels would have to be aired at public workshops for the property owners. There, they could see what was planned and have input into whether one property was taking too many available entitlements for the overall project, such as trying to claim too large a share of the 4,500 homes which are supposed to be spread across all of the acreage.

Cronin told commissioners that the negotiations were among the most complex he had participated in, but he said the central question — whether industry should come before homebuilding — was largely settled. Another potential industrial use next to the one he has been negotiating with will mean that industry does come first.

“It’s a moot point now,” Cronin said.

Adding the requirement for all the owners to talk together about who was getting permission for each separate project also resolved problems. “These neighborhood meetings will be very important,” Cronin said.

In the second application, the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Tower Foundation had proposed building 125 homes on 75 acres for military and first responders and their families.

But neighbors in the adjoining Panther Run subdivision objected, because of compatibility. Some 60-foot wide lots and two-story homes for the project were planned next to their larger lots. The foundation property is on Parkway Boulevard, a half-mile east of Ehren Cutoff.

The foundation has its roots in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Stephen Siller was a New York City firefighter who lost his life that day. The foundation created in his name has helped families of military and first responders through three programs: the Gold Star Family Home Program, the Smart Home Program and Fallen First Responder Program.

Since the planning board voted to recommend denial, residents of Panther Run and foundation representatives have met with county commissioners, and the developer has agreed to several changes. Now, there will be just 103 home lots, and the lots closest to the neighboring community will be larger, mostly single-story homes with newly designated common land in between.

“We believe we’ve gone above and beyond to be good neighbors,” foundation executive vice president Matt Mahoney told commissioners. He noted that while the organization has built more than 400 homes across the country for military and first responders and their families, this would be the first subdivision built by the foundation.