The third time was apparently the charm for developers seeking to build a 320-unit apartment complex in the Seven Oaks Master Planned Unit Development (MPUD) Master Plan.
After having their efforts rejected by the Pasco County Planning Commission last year and the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) in January, and appealing the decision and going to mediation in the spring, developer DD/SR 56 LLC finally got the vote it needed to build the apartment project.
On Oct. 11, commissioners voted 3-2 in favor of modifying the MPUD and clearing the way for the new apartments and 25,000 square feet of commercial and retail space on 10 acres on Ancient Oaks Dr., just off S.R. 56, adjacent to Sam’s Club (see map).
DD/SR 56 LLC only needed to change one mind, and it succeeded. District 1 Commissioner Ron Oakley, who voted against the project in January, joined Dist. 3 Commissioner Kathryn Starkey and Dist. 4 Commissioner Christina Fitzpatrick by voting in favor of the project.
Dist. 2 Commissioner Mike Moore, who lives in Seven Oaks, and Dist. 5 Commissioner Jack Mariano remained opposed. They argued that the commercial designation for the 10 acres should remain because the area needs new jobs more than it needs multi-family housing.
Oakley, whose quote from the January meeting — “I’ve always felt that the size of the project is too large for the site” — was cited on a few occasions by opponents during the four-hour BOCC meeting, said his concerns about parking, traffic and pedestrian safety had been eased by the developer’s changes to the project.
“It’s a better fit on the site than it was prior,” Oakley said.
During the mediation process, the developer made a number of changes to its application, including a new site plan that includes two multi-story buildings. There will be vertical parking, and developers increased the commercial and retail space from 20,000 square feet to 25,000, which will be on the ground levels of the buildings.
There also were pedestrian safety and traffic issues that were resolved, including plans to extend and improve a walkway to Sam’s Club from the complex
Opponents argued that allowing 320 apartments on 10 acres was too dense and would not only create additional traffic and safety issues, but also would set a problematic precedent for the future.
“The 32 units per acre will set a dangerous and irreversible precedent,” said Chelsea Waller of Waller Law, who represents the Seven Oaks Community Development District. “Every developer is going to come into the county demanding the same density, and there goes the unique character of Pasco County.”
A presentation by opponents claimed that the 32 units per acre exceeds that of nearby apartments The Enclave (7.2), Bonterra Parc (10), MAA’s Colonial Grand (15.9) and the Windsor Club (16.3).
More than a dozen Seven Oaks residents spoke in opposition at the Oct. 11 meeting, citing mostly traffic concerns and compatibility with the rest of the MPUD. The location off S.R. 56 and the traffic congestion already in that area were the primary concerns.
One resident warned that such projects would lead to Wesley Chapel becoming like San Francisco (“If you go back there right now you understand what your future may look like if we approve this kind of stuff”), and another warned that the multi-story buildings could cause “sky and sun blocking.”
Waller argued that the changes made by the developers were insufficient to warrant approval. The project belonged in South Tampa or Orlando, she said, and was not compatible with Wesley Chapel’s urban dynamic.
But Joel Tew, the land-use attorney representing DD/SR 56 LLC, said that’s exactly what the developers are seeking.
“This is the poster child for a vertical mixed-use infill project,” Tew said, adding that it is supposed to look like Westchase Park or Hyde Park. “The whole point is to create a walkable look.”
While developers appear to have prevailed in their efforts to proceed with the project, an appeal could still be forthcoming, although it would likely take more than a year to get back to the BOCC.