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‘You made promises.’ Residents still fighting development of 41-acre Pasco tract

Heritage Lake and Riverside Village residents are still willing to tax themselves and that process will be considered by the County Commission on Tuesday
A sign is seen on the edge of The Oaks Park property Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021 in New Port Richey. Residents of Heritage Lake and Riverside Village Estates subdivisions have been fighting the development of a more than 41-acre property that straddles both areas for the past 14 years.
A sign is seen on the edge of The Oaks Park property Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021 in New Port Richey. Residents of Heritage Lake and Riverside Village Estates subdivisions have been fighting the development of a more than 41-acre property that straddles both areas for the past 14 years. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Sep. 27
Updated Sep. 28

DADE CITY — Residents of Heritage Lake and Riverside Village in West Pasco haven’t changed their minds about being willing to pay to prevent development that will negatively impact their communities. Earlier this month, they made that clear to the Pasco County Commission.

Marlieta Lassiter brought along the signatures of 134 of her neighbors to make that point. She reminded commissioners of a county action in 2014 to protect the communities by preserving a 41-acre swath of land proposed for apartments. But the payment plan was never put in place, and now, Lassiter said, “there has been some concern recently about the property being considered for some kind of development.”

William Gillies, who was among those who originally fought to protect the land, was more direct.

The entrance to the Riverside Village Estates subdivision is seen Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021 in New Port Richey. Residents of Heritage Lake and Riverside Village Estates subdivisions have been fighting the development of a more than 41-acre property that straddles both areas for the past 14 years.
The entrance to the Riverside Village Estates subdivision is seen Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021 in New Port Richey. Residents of Heritage Lake and Riverside Village Estates subdivisions have been fighting the development of a more than 41-acre property that straddles both areas for the past 14 years. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

“You made promises,” Gillies told the commission. “If you want us to stop being cynical about government, keep your promises.”

Nearly a decade ago, residents in the Heritage Lake and Riverside Village communities rose up to oppose a plan for a 240-unit apartment complex in their neighborhood of single family homes. The development threatened to snarl traffic patterns and worsen existing drainage problems.

Passionately debated for several years, Pasco commissioners in 2014 agreed to spend more than $3 million in county general fund reserves to buy the 41-acre site on Amazon Drive and begin a payment system for residents to reimburse that cost on their tax bills. But the plan got derailed.

For several years, local legislators sought state monies to pay for the reimbursement and they were successful. But each time, the Governor vetoed the funds.

Recently, the community learned of rumors that a developer was again hoping to build on at least a portion of the site. Earlier this month, county administrator Dan Biles said that his staff had been doing research to provide informational letters to the numerous homeowners groups surrounding what residents call Oaks Park. Those letters would include information about park development, costs and the potential to “surplus” a portion of the site.

To surplus a property means that a government determines a parcel is no longer needed and then offers it for sale.

County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey, who was on the board when the decision was made to purchase the site and preserve it, said that she still favors the deal to charge residents for reimbursement of the general fund money spent for the site.

But Starkey also said that if a portion of the land was offered up for sale as surplus, there might be a deal that doesn’t include rental apartment construction but some other form of housing. The funds the county collects could help pay back the county’s general fund.

An egret forages near the water’s edge along The Oaks Park property Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021 in New Port Richey. Residents of Heritage Lake and Riverside Village Estates subdivisions have been fighting the development of a more than 41-acre property that straddles both areas for the past 14 years.
An egret forages near the water’s edge along The Oaks Park property Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021 in New Port Richey. Residents of Heritage Lake and Riverside Village Estates subdivisions have been fighting the development of a more than 41-acre property that straddles both areas for the past 14 years. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

During a previous discussion about the topic, Starkey mentioned that getting the revenue from a land sale could help the county pay for a property she was eying that would be perfect for more boat ramp access.

Next steps are expected at the commission meeting Tuesday. Commissioner Mike Moore pushed to make sure that the meeting where a decision might come would be in New Port Richey since it would impact west Pasco properties.

Jon Russell poses for a photograph with The Oaks Park property in the background Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021. Residents of Heritage Lake and Riverside Village Estates subdivisions have been fighting the development of a more than 41-acre property that straddles both areas for the past 14 years.
Jon Russell poses for a photograph with The Oaks Park property in the background Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021. Residents of Heritage Lake and Riverside Village Estates subdivisions have been fighting the development of a more than 41-acre property that straddles both areas for the past 14 years. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

Commissioner Christina Fitzpatrick has been working with the residents of the impacted communities. She confirmed that there was strong support to begin to tax residents an estimated $138 annually over 15 years to pay off the debt. She made a motion to take the next step to make that happen during that meeting.

That step is to notify the property appraiser and tax collector that the county intends for the fee to be placed on the tax bills next year. An agenda item to accomplish those notifications and get that process back on track are on Tuesday’s commission agenda.

Starkey said she had hoped that the county could complete its research so that residents had a full picture on what they might need to pay for reimbursing for the purchase of the site as well as upkeep once it is developed into a park.

A heron flies through the backyard of Jon Russell’s New Port Richey home Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021. Residents of Heritage Lake and Riverside Village Estates subdivisions have been fighting the development of a more than 41-acre property that straddles both areas for the past 14 years.
A heron flies through the backyard of Jon Russell’s New Port Richey home Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021. Residents of Heritage Lake and Riverside Village Estates subdivisions have been fighting the development of a more than 41-acre property that straddles both areas for the past 14 years. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

Commissioner Jack Mariano, who was also on the board when the original decision on the taxing unit for residents was approved, said that the county can go ahead and get the process started. If costs need to be adjusted in the years ahead, that is the process the county uses with other similar taxing units in other communities.

“Let’s give them the peace of mind that it’s going to be done,” Mariano said.

Times staff writer C.T. Bowen contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that residents would be taxed an estimated $138 annually over 15 years to pay off the debt.