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Pasco discusses ‘nuclear option,’ a moratorium on new apartments

Pasco commissioners seek answers to stop the loss of important job-producing properties.
 
Pasco County commissioners are concerned that even more land planned for commercial and industrial development will now go to new apartment complexes under the state's new Live Local law. The addition of new sites proposed for multifamily development prompted commissioner discussion this week about a moratorium on new apartments. No decision was made.
Pasco County commissioners are concerned that even more land planned for commercial and industrial development will now go to new apartment complexes under the state's new Live Local law. The addition of new sites proposed for multifamily development prompted commissioner discussion this week about a moratorium on new apartments. No decision was made. [ Times (2021) ]
Published Oct. 26, 2023

Watching Pasco’s future commercial and industrial sites get proposed for apartments instead under a new law, county commissioners this week discussed what they called the “nuclear option”: a potential moratorium on new multifamily housing.

Commissioners hope to get the Florida Legislature to alter the law called Live Local that passed in the last session. While the intent of that bill was to increase affordable housing, it could curb efforts by Pasco County to preserve land for future employers to avoid locking in its reputation as simply a bedroom community to Tampa.

For Commissioner Seth Weightman, who has headed up the fight against Live Local, the matter is taking on increasing urgency. He said representatives of two new sites recently have stepped forward to say they hope to take advantage of the law, joining prospective developers of a half-dozen other land parcels.

One of the newly identified sites is at the corner of Old Pasco Road and Overpass Road in an area the county has been eager to see turned into light industry. Recently, the state completed work on a new interchange with Interstate 75 at Overpass, making the property more accessible for potential employers.

The other site is at Curley Road and State Road 54, another high-growth area that was destined for commercial use. Traffic congestion in that location is already a problem and adding hundreds of new cars from an apartment complex would only make that worse, Weightman said.

“This bill is killing Pasco County jobs,” he said. “The Live Local bill is not healthy for our community.”

“This bill is killing Pasco County jobs,” said Commissioner Seth Weightman. “The Live Local bill is not healthy for our community.”
“This bill is killing Pasco County jobs,” said Commissioner Seth Weightman. “The Live Local bill is not healthy for our community.” [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

Live Local allows developers to turn land now zoned for commercial, industrial and mixed uses into apartments if 40% are designated for affordable housing. In return, the developer would not have to go through costly and time-consuming land-use change requests or negotiate with the county, which otherwise would be required.

A portion of those projects would then get property tax exemptions for years, which county officials oppose because it costs more for the government to provide services to homes. It also would result in less tax revenue to pay for those services, such as police and fire protection.

“I am just vehemently opposed to this, although I know we’re handcuffed in what we can do,” Weightman said. The two new sites, he said, “pushed me over the edge.”

Pasco has established employment hubs at Interstate 75 and State Road 52 as well the massive new Moffitt Cancer Center project off of the Suncoast Parkway and wants to lure more industry.

While the county has worked with other apartment developers to make projects blend in with communities nearby, the Live Local bill has created what county officials call “bad actors” who are not cooperating.

While Weightman said it would be unfortunate to hurt those who are working with the county by enacting a moratorium to stop those who are not, “we’re stuck in a corner and there is one option on the table.”

Barbara Wilhite, an attorney who represents many of the developments that come before the commission for approval, said the idea of a moratorium “keeps me up at night.” She said it would stop projects at all levels in the process, including those for developers who are following the rules and those nearing final approval.

Pasco enacted a yearlong moratorium on apartments in the south-central portion of the county in 2021 in order to determine if the area already had too many. The study offered mixed results.

Commissioners and lawyers in the county attorney’s office brainstormed several ideas that might deter more Live Local projects without having to do the moratorium. They discussed changing impact fees for such projects, tying prohibitions to certain roadways where the county has some control and possibly establishing intersections that must remain commercial.

County Administrator Mike Carballa agreed to start researching commercial intersections and bring information back to commissioners.

Weightman said that the county needs to make a strong impression on legislators that the law needs to be adjusted in next year’s session. One way to do that, he suggested, was to get support from neighboring Hillsborough and Pinellas county commissioners when the three elected bodies meet in a joint session next month.