Pasco County commissioners are smart to tap the brakes on new apartment complex proposals in the busy suburban core of the county. Even in a pro-growth place like Pasco, there’s such a thing as too much of a good thing. The county’s apartment moratorium isn’t a long-term solution, but it does signal a deference to the kind of long-term planning that’s needed in the face of rampant growth.
The moratorium first arose in the spring as requests for land-use changes to allow multi-family units prompted discussions about just how many apartments are needed in bustling Wesley Chapel. The Republican-dominated commission unanimously imposed a six-month halt on new applications for multi-family projects. They extended it another six months until next April when it took longer than expected for planning staff to get an accurate count of how many apartments currently exist and how many are already approved and coming. That it’s proving such a task to verify those basic figures — which should inform any future land-use approvals — is a sure sign of how much this pause was needed.
Republican Commissioner Mike Moore led the charge for the moratorium. His district includes Wesley Chapel, which grew by 47 percent over the past decade, compared with 21 percent county-wide. Now Commissioner Jack Mariano, a fellow Republican, is proposing an expansion of the zone covered by the moratorium. It currently affects the area south of SR 52, north of SR 54, east of US 41, to the western boundary of Moore’s district. Mariano, with Moore’s support, wants the moratorium to cover more of the suburban swath of east and central Pasco.
The arguments are compelling. Moore points out that any land used for residential units can’t house new businesses. He also has argued that oversaturating the area with apartment complexes could lead to blight, as existing complexes age and become less desirable than new communities. Sheriff Chris Nocco has also waded into the debate, asking that law enforcement needs be factored into the development review process since every new housing subdivision and apartment complex creates added territory for deputies to patrol. Makes sense.
It wasn’t so long ago that much of Pasco County was still dotted with orange groves and cattle ranches. Commissioner Ron Oakley, who represents what’s left of rural east Pasco, expressed a desire to maintain that character. But the past two decades have ushered in an extreme makeover featuring upscale subdivisions and hundreds of thousands of square feet of retail space. Managing the growth of the next two decades will be critical to protecting the quality of life for residents, preserving the natural environment and preventing sprawl.
Growth management is a longstanding priority and challenge in Pasco County and growing counties like it. Every new development that adds to the tax base puts added pressure on roads, schools, green space and even crime control. More apartments will surely spring up in Wesley Chapel and Land O’Lakes and the fast-changing areas in between. In the meantime, Pasco commissioners are right to pause and consider the big picture before any more cement is poured.
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