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Pasco mulls moratorium as aviation groups push for stronger development rules

The six-month pause would halt land use changes near airports while the county updates its rules
Zephyrhills Municipal Airport is one of Pasco's public airports.
Zephyrhills Municipal Airport is one of Pasco's public airports. [ City of Zephyrhills ]
Published May 2

DADE CITY — Earlier this month, Mark Twaalfhoven urged Pasco County commissioners to enact tighter development regulations about Pasco’s general aviation airports.

The pitch was a familiar one. Twaalfhoven and his neighbors, who live around the Pilot Country Airport north of State Road 52 in central Pasco, made the same arguments in October 2020. At that time they urged the commission to deny rezoning 44 acres just west of the airport from commercial use to a densely-packed residential neighborhood of 109 single-family homes.

Commissioners approved that zoning.

Now changes to the rules around Pasco’s airports are coming. Commissioners on Tuesday will begin discussing a six-month moratorium on any new building permits, site plans, rezonings and other land use change applications for land around airports. During that hiatus, the county aims to adopt new development rules around airports.

The moratorium ordinance was drafted by the county attorney’s office after questions arose about whether a draft drawn up by local development interests would stop inappropriate projects while new rules were developed, according to a memo in Tuesday’s agenda packet.

Pilot Country, Tampa North Aero Park and Zephyrhills Municipal Airport are Pasco’s three public airports, and Hidden Lake Airport is private. A 230-unit apartment complex proposed near Hidden Lake Airport recently raised safety concerns.

Twaalfhoven, owner and manager of Pilot Country Airport, said the primary airport concerns are land use compatibility, noise, building height and placement of landfills, which attract birds that can interfere with airplanes.

He pointed out that despite a legal requirement for the county to have already established such rules, officials had not done so yet. His attorney Kimberly Crowell told commissioners the same thing in 2020. In a letter to the commission, she explained that making good land use rules around airports protects everyone’s investment.

“Mr. Twaalfhoven has personally invested more than $4.5 million in the past 18 months into upgrading the airport and building a home in the adjacent Pilot Country Estates community and is committed to ensuring the long-term stability of property values in that area,” Crowell told the Commission at the time.

Twaalfhoven took issue with the noise measurements used in the 2020 rezoning by the applicants’ consultant. He said last week that the county needs to protect nearby neighbors not just from the average noise of an airport, which is calculated over time. A helicopter landing or taking off in the early morning hours with noise as loud as a jackhammer was going to harm neighbors’ quality of life, he said.

He also said that trying to keep dense development out of the narrow zone around the runway isn’t enough. Keeping it out of the wider swath that is an airport protection zone would be.

“You’re actually creating a kill zone,” said neighbor Rick Warner, a former air traffic controller. Such close, dense development beside an airport, he said, “would be a tremendous safety hazard to the people who would be buying or living there.”

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