Residents of Heritage Lake and Riverside Village have kept an eye on the 41-acre parcel for nearly a decade, fighting an apartment complex once planned there and convincing the county to buy the land for a possible park.
But after some citizens questioned how much that park might cost them on their tax bills last year, the commission delayed action on transforming the site into a private passive park. Now, the commission has returned to the idea of allowing residential development on the site.
On Tuesday, commissioners will consider declaring the property surplus and making it available for purchase. While nearby residents had originally protested an apartment complex planned for the site, the new development use would be restricted, according to Andrew Baxter, the county’s facilities management director.
The parcel would be limited to 100 units of townhomes, which the current zoning allows, or single-family homes. The buyer would need to seek a rezoning for detached housing at their expense, according to Baxter’s memo to the commission. Regardless of the type of residences, they cannot be rentals and the land-purchase price must be at least $3 million.
The county would also maintain an easement, up to 60 feet wide, to connect a potential multiuse trail from Sebring Drive to Amazon Drive, and up to 20 feet along Amazon Drive.
In 2007, developer Chris Scherer bought the land for $1.5 million and, over the next several years, made plans to build 240 apartments. Nearby residents from Heritage Lake and Riverside Village packed county meetings urging officials to deny the project because they said it would snarl traffic and change the nature of the area.
In 2014, the commission agreed to pay $3 million to buy the site and protect it from development, and to recover that money through a special assessment. County officials met with nearby homeowners groups and decided that the site would be maintained as an open space and that residents living within a half-mile walking distance of the property would be part of the assessment.
The new pitch for development doesn’t sit well with nearby resident William Day.
“It’s still a problem to me,” he said. “Why was this all put on hold for so long? I smell a rat.”
Day said that the county made the purchase but delayed assessing residents for the cost of making the land into a park for years. Part of that delay was the county’s hope the state would reimburse Pasco for the purchase, but that didn’t happen. Then last year, residents were told their bill to pay for the park would be $164.80 for the first year and $135.56 for the next 14 years. Some residents protested.
Keep up with all things Pasco County
Subscribe to our free Pasco Times newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
The long delay between the purchase and the assessment proposal meant that many of those who originally wanted to keep more traffic and housing out of their neighborhoods were not around to protest or had lost interest in the topic, making it easier for the county to bring up development again, Day said.
Last year, Commissioner Jack Mariano said he thought the property would be a good place for another subdivision like the ones that surround it, while Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said it was clear that wasn’t what nearby residents wanted.
According to Baxter, just declaring the land surplus doesn’t mean it gets developed, but it is the first necessary step. If it is declared surplus, the county seeks purchase offers, which would be presented to the County Commission. The final decision on selling the land rests with commissioners.
Fred Colucci, another nearby resident who had expressed concerns to the commission last year, said his homeowners association seemed to be fine with allowing the county to declare the site surplus. But he also knows that those who were originally concerned about what might be built there would not have wanted to see townhomes.
“Townhomes were the problem to begin with,” he said.