County planners say the lone remaining property in the parcel above (outlined in red) should be preserved for retail and office space, not more apartments.

In a sign that developers in Pasco County may be facing a new uphill battle when it comes to rezoning property in order to build apartments, the county’s planning staff and Planning Commission rejected an effort to do just that in the Seven Oaks development, just off S.R. 56 and Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd.

First, the county’s planning staff recommended denying a substantial modification to the Seven Oaks MPUD Master Planned Unit Development (MPUD) Master Plan, and then, by a 3-1 vote on Sept. 8, Pasco’s Planning Commission voted down the plan to rezone 86,000 square feet of retail and office space for a 320-unit apartment complex.

Chris Williams, the director of planning for the Pasco School Board, had to leave before the Planning Commission vote but did voice his support for the developer’s plans.

Roberto Saez, MBA, CGC, AIA, a 14-year Seven Oaks resident, made the motion to deny. Saez formerly served as a senior construction project manager for Pasco County, and while he noted that the project was impressive, and something needed in the county, “this is not the right location.”

The proposed apartments would be located on a 10-acre parcel, currently zoned for commercial and retail development, adjacent to the Sam’s Club on S.R. 56. Ancient Oaks Dr. serves as the western boundary of the parcel, BBD as the eastern boundary and S.R. 56 as the southern boundary.

The proposed apartment complex would include a pool, a dog park and open space for gatherings in the southern portion of the complex.

But, opponents of the project note that there already are two apartment complexes in that area of Seven Oaks — Windsor Club at Seven Oaks to the east and Colonial Grand at Seven Oaks to the west. And, the Enclave at Wesley Chapel and Bonterra Parc apartments are both located right across the street, on the south side of S.R. 56. The residents also raised concerns about traffic issues on Ancient Oaks Blvd.

Joel Tew, the attorney for the developer DD/SR 56 LLC and Walmart, refuted each argument, and claimed the decision to recommend denying the rezoning appeared to be driven by politics, a reference to the county’s current multi-family moratorium.

Politics Or Public Benefit?

Pasco’s Board of County Commissioners, led by District 2 commissioner and Seven Oaks resident Mike Moore, issued a moratorium on accepting any new apartment applications back in May, after debating for months whether the county, and specifically most of the Wesley Chapel area, was facing too much of a glut of multi-family development.

While the Seven Oaks application was submitted prior to the moratorium going into effect, the political headwinds were still felt, Tew says.

“At the pre-app (meeting), staff told us that there was no problem with this application,” Tew said. “Staff said it was a great spot for this. It’s only now, due to a political directive, that staff at the last minute was told to oppose this application. That’s unfortunate.”

The county’s Planning and Development Department wrote that the project, as proposed, “is inconsistent with Comprehensive Plan Policy FLU 1.8.7, Economic Development, and Policy FLU 1.8.10, Preservation of Capacity for Employment-Generating Uses.”

“In a normal world, if this project came in, it would be on (the) consent (agenda). You wouldn’t think twice about it. You’d be thanking the developer for building exactly the mixed-use project that this county has begged all developers to build.
 — Attorney Joel Tew

Nectorios Pittos, the director of planning and development for Pasco, said an independent third-party analysis that was conducted concluded that the proposed 320-unit rental apartment development would generate $188,375 in annual county revenue over a 10-year average, but the current MPUD entitlements for nearly 90,000 square feet of commercial use would generate $743,375 in annual county revenue. 

The county, Pittos said, is placing a high priority on county revenue- and employment-generating land uses, which he says the current project would not do.

However, Tew, who complained he received the third-party analysis days before the hearing, disputed it by showing a chart of other similar multi-family projects and their tax bills. Extrapolating those numbers to the proposed 320 units, Tew said the proposed Seven Oaks project’s tax bill actually would generate $850,000 yearly, which, over 30 years, which would mean a $25-million windfall for the county’s coffers — and more revenue than the $22.3 million that a commercial project would generate over the same time period.

“I don’t know where they came up with those (lower) numbers,” Tew said.

Without the political overtones, Tew said, the proposed multi-family project would be a slam dunk.

“I ask that you look past the politics,” he said. “In a normal world, if this project came in, it would be on (the) consent (agenda). You wouldn’t think twice about it. You’d be thanking the developer for building exactly the mixed-use project that this county has begged all developers to build.”

Three Seven Oaks residents spoke against the project at the meeting, which was held at the Dade City Courthouse, while two others called in, also in opposition. John Thompson, one of those residents in attendance, said the project was like “fitting a square peg in a round hole” and that the area needed more room for small businesses, not more apartments.

County planners did offer another option for committee action — a continuance to the Nov. 4 Planning Commission meeting to allow the Planning & Development Department to “develop and include conditions of approval for vertically integrated mixed use building(s) that have commercial and office entitlements on the ground floor and multi-family entitlements on the upper stories.”

Tew rejected the alternative motion, saying the developer said there was “no viability” or market for such a project.

“Ironically, when I bring new clients in to meet with staff, this is exactly the kind of project they ask my clients to build,” Tew said. “When we find a hole in the donut that has everything around it, all of a sudden it’s not acceptable.”

Moore and the rest of the county commissioners will hear Tew’s apartment proposal in the coming weeks.

The county’s six-month moratorium, which went into effect May 4, has been extended another six months. Part of the plan is to determine exactly how many multi-family projects already exist in the county, and study whether the county, especially in areas like Wesley Chapel, has reached its saturation point.

Moore says he is not opposed to multi-family projects, just the efforts to rezone parcels approved for commercial and retail projects to build apartments. He says that there already is plenty of land with entitlements for multi-family projects, and cited a number of projects currently in progress.

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