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  1. Pasco

Pasco tells apartment builder: Seniors welcome, but not poor people

A prime redevelopment location in west Pasco's Harbors market area won't include an affordable housing complex, Pasco County commissioners ruled.

The land, 12 acres of brush, surrounded by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire, has been vacant for more than a decade. It's the former site of a retirement home at the corner of State Road 52 and La Madera Boulevard, sitting between the entrances to two single-family-home neighborhoods: Bear Creek and the Timber Oaks age-restricted community.

The property owner, a Louisville company called ARV Assisted Living Inc., bulldozed the land after buying it in 2006 and now plans to sell the site, possibly to an apartment developer.

To seal the deal, it wanted permission from the county to use the land for a multifamily housing. It needed a so-called conditional use, because the land is zoned for commercial purposes.

However, neighbors balked.

Two dozen residents from the Timber Oaks and Bear Creek neighborhoods attended a Dec. 4 county commission meeting. The opposition was nearly unanimous as a parade of 16 speakers voiced concerns about too much traffic, increased crime and lower property values.

"We're retired people. We don't need this in our community,'' said Timber Oaks resident Patricia Mauro.

Their main objection focused on the target audience for the apartments — people earning less than 60 percent of the average median income. In west Pasco, that would cap the maximum annual income at approximately $31,000 for a typical household.

The United Way has reported previously that there are nearly 81,000 Pasco households characterized as the working poor, with people living in poverty or below the basic cost of living. It is a group known as asset-limited, income-constrained, employed or the acronym ALICE.

Under the proposal, apartment developers would have received federal tax credits to help finance construction, and the area would have realized a new market-rate complex with amenities like a pool and clubhouse, but with affordable rents to accommodate working-class people.

"There's a lot of people at that income level,'' said land-use attorney Barbara Wilhite,who noted the starting pay for some county and Pasco Sheriff's Office employees would meet the qualification.

Neighborhood residents advocated for a complex to serve people 55 and older, matching the population of Timber Oaks. Wilhite, however, said the land seller was unwilling to do that and planned to include a deed covenant at closing that would prohibit an age-restricted housing complex.

A commission majority echoed the neighbors' concerns.

"I feel this area is becoming over saturated with apartment complexes … but there is still a need for senior housing in Pasco County,'' said Commissioner Mike Moore.

"I think would be a complete detriment to Bear Creek and Timber Oaks,'' said Commissioner Jack Mariano, whose district includes the site. He said the property would be better used for commercial or retail purposes to serve existing residents and pointed to the Leisure Lane area west of U.S. 19 as a more appropriate place for affordable, multifamily housing.

They were joined by Commissioner Mike Wells Jr. on a 3-2 vote denying the land-use change that would have allowed the apartments.

Contact C.T. Bowen at ctbowen@tampabay.com or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2.

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