NEW PORT RICHEY — A divided Pasco Board of Commissioners took state Rep. Richard Corcoran’s advice to “do the right thing and damn the consequences.”
They went against the counsel of the county attorney and voted 3-2 to remand the permit approval of a controversial apartment complex back to the county’s Development Review Committee for further study.
It’s been two years since Sherer Development applied for a permit to build The Oaks, a 102-unit apartment complex on Amazon Drive on property that is surrounded by single family homes. The parcel was zoned for multifamily housing in 1981, and county planning staff approved the site plan a year ago.
County Administrator Michele Baker said the additional drainage studies could delay the project another two years.
Commissioners Pat Mulieri, Jack Mariano and Henry Wilson were swayed by pleas from neighbors and elected officials who said their flooding problems would be compounded by the apartment complex. Wilson said the DRC should have considered the potential impact to the surrounding neighborhoods.
“I just think the county’s made a mistake with what’s happened,” Wilson said. “And I don’t think the people of Heritage Lakes and Riverside Estates should be shouldered with the mistakes that we make.”
Corcoran said if commissioners uphold the staff approval, the county would face flooding problems like those in Thousand Oaks and Trinity Oaks. “It’s probably going to cost taxpayers $10 million to fix Thousand Oaks,” he warned.
Tax Collector Mike Fasano also took up the neighbors’ cause. “Don’t worry about lawsuits,” he advised the commissioners. “Because this developer will sue, I’m sure. Take into consideration what the people behind me are going to have to deal with if these apartments are built.”
Attorney Barbara Wilhite, who represents the developer, said Sherer’s drainage plan had been approved by staff and reviewed by two independent engineers. The request for more extensive study is “a delay tactic to try to wear out my client,” said Wilhite, who for 11 years was the chief assistant Pasco county attorney.
She said Sherer has met all of the legal requirements and made significant changes to the site plan in response to the neighbors’ concerns. They reduced the height of the apartments from three stories to two; they increased the setbacks and doubled the size of the park.
“We asked for feedback on the product design,” she said. “The only feedback we received was do not develop rental apartments.”
Jean Cifelli was one of several residents who complained that the apartment complex was incompatible with their neighborhood. “Your policies and decisions are turning our neighborhoods into transient rental communities,” she said.
The current apartment complex plan calls for 102 units in six, two-story buildings, and features that include a clubhouse, pool, playground, park, and seven garage buildings.
County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder reminded commissioners that the property is not being rezoned. “This property already has its zoning in place,” he said. “That’s the fundamental question here ... Staff is compelled to issue the site plan. Legally you’re required to issue the site plan.”
Commissioners Ted Schrader and Kathryn Starkey said the staff made the correct decision when it approved the site plan.
“I took an oath and I have to uphold the law,” Starkey said.