In an effort to provide incentives for developers to build more affordable housing, state lawmakers created a new law dubbed Live Local.
Pasco County leaders say it could cripple their efforts to create more jobs and improve economic development by encouraging developers to scoop up land for apartments instead.
Other Tampa Bay governments are also grappling with the same change in state law, but Pasco has been actively working to combat land owners from seeking to turn industrial land into housing.
Earlier this month, Pasco commissioners agreed that one of their top priorities for the next state legislative session was to pursue an exemption for counties such as theirs from the law.
Pasco officials frequently talk about their need to grow jobs, opposing homebuilders seeking to change land already designated for businesses and industries. The county even implemented a year-long stop on new apartments in the booming Wesley Chapel area to assess the need for more.
Commissioners consider projects such as the Moffitt Life Sciences complex planned for hundreds of acres in the center of the county and the huge new industrial sites planned at State Road 52 and Interstate 75 bigger priorities. They’ve tried to shake their bedroom community reputation for years.
The bill will allow developers to turn land now zoned for commercial, industrial and mixed uses into apartments if 40 percent are designated for affordable housing. In return, the developer would not have to go through costly and time-consuming land-use change requests. A portion of their projects would get property tax exemptions for years.
The complex, nearly 100-page bill also prevents local governments from enacting rent controls, sets aside more funding for existing multifamily project financing programs and establishes other new rules to assist with affordable housing development.
Commissioner Seth Weightman said the county must keep its current inventory of commercial and industrial land untouched. He noted that there were already three developer requests in the pipeline seeking apartments where commercial and industrial uses were already approved.
“We know that we’re housing rich and jobs poor,” he said, sharing a slide produced by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council showing that Pasco and a number of nearby counties are in that same position.
Weightman said the projects already moving forward include 786 apartments that “we have no control over” and will affect roads and other county services. Commissioners are also in the middle of planning next year’s budget so it will be difficult to know how to respond when Sheriff Chris Nocco or other local public safety officials ask for more money.
Alexander Alt, intergovernmental affairs officer for the Pasco County Sheriffs Office, said that the sheriff has spoken repeatedly about the effects of residential growth. Those new communities, Alt said, create “a continued strain on services whether that be the sheriff’s office, fire rescue or just government services in general.”
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Weightman said, “we really need to stand together and protect our job generating sites.” He said that something needs to be done quickly before more developers line up to take advantage of the bill.
“I can’t imagine what we’re going to look like 12 months from now,” he said.
Commissioner Ron Oakley said that while the county might have more housing than jobs now, the new businesses coming as part of Moffitt’s project and in the industrial sites on the interstate will mean new housing is needed. But Weightman said the new law could mean that even projects like that can get turned into apartments because of the financial incentives offered.
This can happen, he said, “without our consent and these jobs-creating sites can be eroded away and completely change the makeup of our industrial hubs.”
Commission chairperson Jack Mariano said he wanted to see the jobs come first because the housing could follow. Working with other counties in the same situation and with legislators to get the law changed should be priorities, he said
Pasco’s lobbyist Shawn Foster agreed. He remembered a recent study showing that more people left their homes in Pasco to work in another county than any other location in the Tampa Bay area.
“Those are the things we really need to emphasize with our delegation,” Foster said. “We want to keep our folks home and keep our jobs here and we need to increase our economic development.”