DADE CITY — The debate over building more apartments in Pasco County continues.
The county’s planning staff and planning commission have each recommended denial of a request to modify the master plan for the Seven Oaks development in Wesley Chapel.
Planning staff members recommended denial of the application based on county growth guidelines that favor preserving sites that have been designated for employment-generating purposes such as retail and office spaces. The proposal to convert 86,000 square feet of retail and office space to a 320-unit apartment complex would also violate public expectations for the site and stress usage of parks, libraries and utilities, the staff concluded.
Planning commissioners agreed, voting last week to recommend denial to the County Commission, which is likely to hear the application in the coming weeks.
The attorney for developer DD/SR 56 LLC and Walmart, Joel Tew, said the staff is simply bowing to the current political push against apartments. He also said that the county’s planning staff had been working with the developer for months and had been in favor of the switch from retail and office to multifamily.
“It was only now due to a political directive that staff was at the last minute told to oppose this application and that’s unfortunate,” Tew said.
More apartments have always been part of the long-term plan and would not be a surprise to existing residents, he said.
The 10-acre parcel is located just east of Ancient Oaks Boulevard and north of State Road 56. Adjacent to the Sam’s Club, It is a part of what was decades ago known as the Saddlebrook Development of Regional Impact covering 2,500 acres. The development became Seven Oaks and building continued, but this parcel has remained vacant.
Representatives for the developer pitched the need for a residential component in the area, specifically apartments, bringing residents within walking distance to nearby stores.
County planning staff argued in their recommendation that the original land use for the parcel would contribute more to the county in revenue than it would consume in services. An apartment project, on the other hand, would consume in services more than it would contribute in revenue.
“Residential developments are local government service users, requiring parks, roads, and utility infrastructure, in addition to fire, police and other services,” according to the staff report. A financial analysis by the county indicated that a 320-unit apartment would generate $188,375 in county revenue over 10 years while 86,000 square feet of retail would generate $743,375.
Tew disputed the numbers and complained that the report was released by the county at the last minute so there was no time to respond appropriately. “I submit that this site is actually the poster child for an urban, mixed-use pedestrian-friendly in-fill project,” he said, “exactly the kind of project” county planners want developers to build.
Planning Commission member Roberto Saez said that he has lived in the Seven Oaks community for 14 years and that there are other multifamily projects in the area but this site “is not appropriate.”
Planning Commission member Chris Poole asked Tew if the developer would consider a compromise suggested by planners. That would take them back to the drawing board to plan apartments to be built on the site over offices and retail. But Tew said that the developer saw no market for that kind of development and wasn’t interested.
Pasco County commissioners, who have prioritized business and industrial growth to move away from being seen as a bedroom community to Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, established a moratorium on new apartment applications in portions of south central Pasco County in May. They wanted to give county planning staff time to do a full inventory of projects already built and those approved for future construction.