DADE CITY — Three years ago, as county commissioners approved rural land protections for Pasco's northeast quadrant, one supportive resident suggested that the new safeguards would help turn the scenic area into a highly desirable destination.
Probably more that she imagined.
The rolling hills and scenic vistas could become a destination for hundreds of recreational vehicle enthusiasts escaping the Midwest and Northeast to a new resort in northeast Pasco if a developer's plans come to fruition.
Vcare Consultants of Tampa is proposing to turn 130 acres of agricultural land at the northeast corner of Interstate 75 and Lake Iola Road into a 675-space RV resort with a lodge, convenience store, pool, dock and other recreational amenities.
The idea isn't sitting well with some area residents. Because it is planned as a transient park, not as permanent residential home sites, the North Pasco RV Resort is considered akin to a hotel. That means most of the county's rural land protections aren't applicable, since they govern residential development only.
"I have a problem with it,'' said Jill Yelverton of Blanton. "It's just a bad precedent ''
Yelverton and others lobbied commissioners extensively, first to include protections of Northeast Pasco's rural characteristics in the county's comprehensive land plan more than a decade ago and then to adopt the local ordinance in 2016 to turn those goals into enforceable rules. The county, however, never extended the architectural guidelines and other development safeguards to commercial land.
The developer's rezoning application to the county promises the resort's design will "complement the unique grade of the property with stunning views of the rolling hills and Lake Moody.'' And the developer's attorney, Barbara Wilhite, said the project is not commercial intrusion because the county's land development code provides for RV resorts in rural environments.
"It is a compatible use,'' she said.
But, an RV resort "is just not what we had in our vision when we fought for the protections and when we said we wanted it to be rural,'' said Yelverton.
It's not just the proposed land use that has raised eyebrows. The developers acquired the former citrus grove for $1.2 million in December from Ann Oakley Maggard, sister of Commission Chairman Ron Oakley, and her husband, Dale Maggard, the brother of recently elected state Rep. Randy Maggard, R-Dade City.
Some residents wonder if the county will be able to provide an impartial hearing on the proposed rezoning and development considering the family ties.
"I give everybody a fair shake,'' answered Commissioner Oakley.
The commissioner, through Lake Placid Groves LLC, also owns property nearby. The 230-acre former citrus grove, sitting between Johnston and Bayhead roads and west of the proposed RV park, is for sale, he said, "but nobody's come up to buy it yet.''
His property's next-door neighbor is another RV park, Travelers Rest RV Resort and Golf Course, which is just 1.4 miles from the proposed North Pasco RV Park. The developer's rezoning application notes the close proximity of Travelers Rest to show that the proposed land use already exists in the vicinity.
A Travelers Rest representative declined comment. But residents say RV parks proximity is a faulty comparison. Travelers Rest predates both the rural protection ordinance and even the county zoning laws adopted in the mid-1970s. Volunteers built Travelers Rest as an Airstream park in 1972, according to its web site, and its 624 spaces include 136 privately owned mobile home lots. North Pasco RV Park proposes no permanent home sites.
Developing a new RV resort mirrors the industry's growth nationally. Though recreational vehicle sales slowed in 2018 and early 2019, it remains a healthy industry. Wholesale shipments topped more than 500,0000 vehicles, with a retail value of $20 billion, just two years ago. Sales are projected to drop to 416,300 vehicles this year, according to the RV Industry Association, which quoted data compiled by RV RoadSigns' Richard Curtin, director of Surveys of Consumers at the University of Michigan. That sales figure, however, is still higher than every year before 2016 and is double the shipped inventory from 10 years ago.
Vcare Consultants isn't the only developer looking to bring RV enthusiasts to Pasco County.
Caleb Miller, whose family owns and operates two Ja-Mar RV resorts near Port Richey, is seeking to develop a new 42-acre, 452-space RV park along U.S. 19 in Hudson, according to preliminary plans filed with the county. Meanwhile, the Three Lakes RV Resort in Hudson plans to add 72 RV lots.
The SunWest Harbourtowne project in Aripeka, the owners of which are mired in litigation over control of the property, filed plans earlier this year with Pasco County to drop its proposed golf course and add 1,000 RV spaces. Meanwhile, the Anclote River Resort by Tradewinds, originally called Guy Harvey Outpost Resorts, is a proposed upscale 67-acre, $35 million resort along Baillies Bluff Road in Holiday.
Older parks also are bringing new investments. In May, an Illinois Company paid a combined $11.5 million to acquire three RV parks in west Pasco: Lakewood Travel Park on State Road 52, and the Suncoast and Tropic Acres RV resorts on U.S. 19, south of SR 52. The latter two parks date to the early 1970s.
In northeast Pasco, residents fear a steady stream of RVs departing I-75 at exit 293 and then driving on Blanton and Lake Iola roads to reach their destination, where they'll stay a few days and then return to the rural roads for a trip elsewhere.
Commissioner Oakley called it a "good project. It's set off by itself and not near anybody.''
If the project is approved, Yelverton said, "you might as well forget about arguing against any other commercial coming in up and down Blanton Road.''
Contact C.T. Bowen at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2.