NEW PORT RICHEY — As Pasco County continues its construction on the Ridge Road Extension, developers see opportunities for growth, but some long-time residents see unwelcome change.
This week, residents who live near Tanglewood Drive packed a County Commission meeting to voice distress that their neighborhood could soon be adjacent to a 230-unit apartment complex with 10,000-square-feet dedicated to retail uses. Sporting t-shirts emblazoned with “Keep it Rural,” those residents argued more traffic would pose a threat to their children, and a densely-populated apartment development would ruin their quality of life.
After more than three hours of debate, the 20-acre property at the corner of Ridge Road and Tanglewood Drive got its first nod of support. Commissioners voted three-to-two to transmit a request for a change in the county’s comprehensive plan to the state. If approved, the development proposal then moves on to zoning changes and additional public hearings.
Compatibility with the adjacent neighborhood became a key theme among the nearby neighbors. Many explained that they chose their larger-lot homes to get away from the congestion in the first place. Others talked about an already busy Tanglewood Drive, which has no sidewalks and backs up significantly when students arrive or depart from Cypress Elementary School — a mile and a half down the road.
County planners, who recommended approval of the land use change, said the current designation of one residential unit per acre has been in place for decades. Now, the area is primed for growth and the requested use as a planned development fits with designations the county placed over the area in recent years.
Barbara Wilhite, representing the project developer Charleston Communities, said the county has invested heavily in the area with the construction of the extension of Ridge Road to the Suncoast Parkway, and support for new industry is expected to bring hundreds of new jobs to the surrounding areas.
With a bus stop near the site, a Pasco-Hernando State College campus nearby and with parks and trails nearby and accessible, the area is ready for such a development, Wilhite argued. As for the assertion that the area should remain rural, she said that it is not close to any of the areas that Pasco County has designated as officially rural on its future development plans in recent years.
“Compatibility, that’s the issue of the day,” said attorney Richard Harrison. at the beginning of public comment. He said higher density on the project property wasn’t in dispute but rather the amount of density proposed especially with the Tanglewood community surrounding the site on three sides.
He said the Pasco comprehensive plan required a transition from low to high density uses. Tanglewood is one residential unit per acre, but instead of picking an interim density the developer “blew by” residential densities of three, six, nine and 12 units per acre to 16.
“Where’s the transitional use?” Harrison asked. He called the development “an island of high density in a seat of (residential) 1.”
That issue stuck with Commissioner Jack Mariano, who voted against sending the application on for state review.
Craig LaPorte of nearby Hidden Lake Estates had a different issue with the project. He has been flying out of the airport at Hidden Lake Estates for nearly 50 years, and he said “this a a direct effect on the airport.” He said that accidents can happen and high density development next to an airport is not recommended.
“We’re just asking for problems,’ LaPorte said.
Commissioner Mike Moore said he had lingering concerns about the airport safety issue. He also has been a recent critic of those that argue Pasco County needs more apartments as he has conducted his own study of vacancies in existing apartment complexes in his district in southern central Pasco. He also voted against transmitting the land use change to Tallahassee.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey cited personal property rights of the owner of the proposed development and was glad to hear the developer was bringing utility lines to the site. She also said she agreed with Wilhite’s argument that this property wasn’t inside Tanglewood but rather on Ridge Road, which is meant to be a roadway with higher density.
Starkey, Commission Chairman Ron Oakley and Commissioner Christina Fitzpatrick, who said the development would bring needed tax dollars to the schools, all voted in favor of moving the project forward.