Already frustrated by the problems a new law is causing by allowing new apartments on commercial and industrial land, Pasco County officials this week found another problem with the Live Local Act.
They say the legislation could further delay and drive up the costs of the long-anticipated fix to the congested U.S. 41 and State Road 54 intersection.
For years the state has worked on finding a new design to end the daily traffic back ups at the busy Land O’ Lakes crossroad. But now a land owner on one of the key parcels needed for a new overpass and intersection redesign is considering selling to an apartment builder.
Pasco County Commissioner Seth Weightman, who has led the charge to stop Live Local from damaging Pasco’s job creation efforts, brought that news to the group of Pasco county and city leaders known as the Metropolitan Planning Organization this week.
“In a matter of months there could be a crucial property used to improve that intersection lost to multifamily development,” Weightman said. “Then what happens?”
Tania Gorman, a principal transportation planner for the organization, said the intersection reconstruction is among the biggest projects on the work plan for Pasco County. The current schedule has the state Department of Transportation acquiring land for the project in 2028, she said.
Officials grappled over various versions of the intersection reconstruction plan for years. At one point there was even discussion about tunneling underground to fix the congestion at the site. But that proposal was even more expensive than the current idea for the overpass, which could cost more than half a billion dollars under one proposal.
State road planners finally settled on an overpass design earlier this year but acknowledged at the time that it still needed further study. The state picked a plan used in other busy Florida locations, including the one at Roosevelt Boulevard and U.S. 19 in Pinellas County. It would include building the overpass for through-traffic with turns made at the ground level.
The overpass price tag has also been growing over time, starting out at $222 million when the current design was discussed in February.
A Pasco resident told the planning organization this week said he was alarmed that the price tag has risen to $260 million, with $60-million for buying right of way alone.
“That’s unacceptable,” said Dade City resident Charles Carey, who suggested that the county “stop rezoning until they can get their act together to improve this intersection.”
Pasco County Commission chairperson Jack Mariano asked whether the county could find some way to change the land use designation on properties like the one near the intersection to prevent land owners from using the Live Local law. That legislation allows a developer to use land zoned for commercial, industrial or a mixture of uses for apartments or townhomes without going through the land-use change process or negotiating conditions with the county.
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The developer also then gets a long-term property tax abatement.
While it was sold as a way to promote construction of more affordable housing, Pasco has argued that housing rich communities which need land to generate job-producing development should be exempted from the law.
David Goldstein, chief assistant county attorney, said that simply changing a land owner’s land-use designation wasn’t an option He said the county might, however, want to reach out to the land owner and talk about buying the property before it is sold to an apartment developer.
State officials sometimes use eminent domain, a legal process available to governments to take private property for public use. But state transportation officials said the U.S. 41 project isn’t far enough along in the planning process to make that possible.
The Metropolitan Planning Organization voted unanimously to approach the owner of the site, which is located southwest of the intersection, to begin talks about a possible early purchase.
“Timing is of the essence here,” Weightman said. “If we think we’re going to need this, we need to start looking at it today because it’s game time.”