More and more apartment communities are being built in or proposed for the Wesley Chapel area, and Mike Moore doesn’t like it.
The Pasco County Commissioner, whose District 2 includes most of Wesley Chapel and some of Land O’Lakes, is leading the fight against building more apartments, in contrast to his fellow commissioners who also represent parts of Wesley Chapel — District 1 commissioner Ron Oakley, whose district includes much of Wesley Chapel north of S.R. 54, and District 3 commissioner Kathryn Starkey, who represents a sliver of the southwest corner of Wesley Chapel.
Moore and Starkey clashed at a Jan. 12 commission meeting over a proposal to build apartments just north of the future BayCare Hospital on Bruce B. Downs (BBD) and Eagleston Blvds. Moore and Starkey disagreed about whether or not to approve the proposal by the developer, Mass Capital, with Moore motioning to have it denied. and both Starkey and Oakley voting against it, as did new Dist. 4 county commissioner Christina Fitzpatrick.
The commission then voted 5-0 to continue the debate over the proposal — which would build 240 multi-family dwellings on 16.24 acres — for 60 days.
The commissioners picked the argument back up at a workshop scheduled on Feb. 9, moving towards a temporary moratorium on approving new apartment complex projects.
Moore has long opposed the proliferation of new apartments in the county and, in particular, in his district. His reasons are clear — apartments are taking up land that could be better used generating employment, and because he believes there are already enough multi-family properties to fulfill the need in the area.
To prove he wasn’t alone, he funded a poll conducted by Spry Strategies in December of 400 residents in District 2.
“I’ve beaten this drum for years about apartment complexes in Pasco County, but especially in District 2, so I went ahead and did something,” Moore says. “It was not funded with county dollars, it was $1,700 and I used my own account…I wanted to show it’s not just coming out of my mouth, it’s coming out of citizens’ mouths, too.”
The results, however unscientific, reveal that more local residents agree with him than not, with 154 (or 38.5 percent) saying they don’t approve of the number of apartment buildings in their communities. Almost as many (149) were unsure or didn’t have an opinion; Moore chalked that high number up to the poll being conducted during the holidays. And, 97 (24.2%) of those polled approve of the amount of apartments in their community.
The poll also revealed that 196 (or 49%) would prefer to see more office and commercial development than more apartments, with 59 (14.7%) not having a preference. Again, a high number, 145 (or 36%), were unsure or didn’t have an opinion either way.
Asked whether they believed that more apartments should be built in Pasco County, 231 (57.75%) replied no and 73 (18.3%) replied yes, with 96 (24% unsure).
“Not a day goes by, especially in Land O’Lakes and Wesley Chapel, that someone comes up and starts talking to me and doesn’t bring it up,” Moore says. “I get emails about Covid and in it they bring up the subject of apartments. It shows you how frustrated the community is when it comes to the amount of apartment complexes built in that area.”
According to Nectorious Pittos, AICP, Pasco County’s director of Planning and Development, there are 68 Master Planned Unit Developments (MPUDs) in District 2, and 25 allow for multi-family apartments to be built. Recently, more than 1,000 units have been approved, constructed or are under construction at four new communities — Charleston at Wesley Chapel (on the southwest corner of S.R. 54 and New River Rd., just past Avalon Park West), the new Parc at Wesley Chapel in Lexington Oaks, the Cypress Creek Town Center and in the Aiken MPUD in nearby Land O’Lakes.
Moore says there are dozens of parcels in the area that already have the entitlements dating back to the 1980s to build apartments, and he has no interest in taking those away. But, developers hoping to rezone areas that would be better used for job-creating commercial spaces is where he wants to draw the line.
Moore also cited traffic issues, lack of the space generating employment and revenue for the county, and the effects more apartments will have on nearby schools.
The county received 24 emails about the Mass Capital project, all opposing it. However, Barbara Wilhite, the lawyer representing the developer, said those emails were all from Seven Oaks residents, and despite its proximity, the proposed apartment complex is not located within the Seven Oaks DRI. She said there was support for the proposal from actual future neighbors like BayCare Hospital, Blue Heron Assisted Living Facility and nearby townhomes.
While Moore, who lives in Seven Oaks, was adamantly opposed regardless, Starkey was supportive of developer Mass Capital’s proposal.
She says she heard apartments in the area were at 98 percent capacity — Moore says he disagrees with that number — and she didn’t feel the number of apartments already in existence were oversaturating the area. She also felt it was a good location for apartments, and argued there would be less traffic added to the area with an apartment complex than any other use.
Starkey argued against Moore’s motion to deny by disputing his points and suggesting he was arguing from a privileged perspective.
“It’s elitist and improper,” Starkey said. “Not everyone can live in a $500,000 (home in a) gated community. We are going down a path that is really dangerous, rude and inappropriate.”
Oakley said he felt the project was a good idea and “fits a puzzle.” He voted against Moore’s motion to deny it.
Moore, who says he has spent a good amount of time researching the subject of apartments and the good and bad effects they can have on communities, said he was hoping to change some minds at the Feb. 9 workshop.