DADE CITY — Pasco County’s leaders might be killing its economic and job-creating future by turning properties zoned for business into multifamily locations, Commissioner Mike Moore said, and on Feb. 9 he managed to start county staff on a path to a possible moratorium in a part of the county.
At a January meeting, he discussed a scientific survey he conducted of homeowners, a majority of whom said they felt multifamily housing was detrimental to the quality of life in the county, put pressure on the public schools, strained the road network and seemed to be proliferating all over the county.
“We as a board can say no,” he said. “If we get rid of our light industrial land, we’re not going to have any left. We talk about listening to the community. It’s time to do it.”
Indeed, Moore declared on Feb. 9 that there are many multifamily development “entitlements” that can be built, and stopping the “plopping” of more of them in some areas of the county through rezoning will not have a negative effect on the future economy.
“There are tons of entitlements for apartments. They’re sitting and waiting for them to be built,” Moore said. “Keep rezoning these properties and doomsday will come.”
At a kiosk outside the commission chambers, resident Mark McBride said that he and others are not opposed to apartments. “We just don’t want oversaturation of apartments,” he said, noting that his son had to attend school in a portable classroom for three years. “We don’t want to go back to our kids to be in portables.”
Leslie Deutch, of John Burns Real Estate Consulting, delivered a presentation on demand for rental housing in Pasco County, and noted that projects built since 2010 are almost fully occupied, which shows strong demand. The market for Class A apartments has a 92% occupancy rate, she said. Rental rates are higher for such housing but still relatively affordable compared with the Tampa area.
“Renting is not considered a bad thing anymore. It’s a choice,” she said, and Pasco is going to need more than 5,000 more units over the next five years.
People seeking housing also are looking beyond their immediate area and to areas where the costs are lower, Deutch noted. For example, Manatee County is experiencing a home boom as residents from Pinellas and Hillsborough look for lower costs, and people in Pasco County are pushing north into Hernando County and Citrus County, and eastward in pursuit of the same goal.
County Commissioner Ron Oakley said some people might be downsizing, or perhaps sold their homes into the strong market and are renting until they’re ready or until they find another area to buy another house.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said she wanted to stress walkability in commercial developments. “I think we’re going to see demand for a while. I hope to see some of it go to the 19 corridor,” she said.
Commissioner Jack Mariano said he’d rather see the county go slower on approvals. “I don’t want us to turn into a Seminole County,” he said. “Before we go flood the market, let’s control the market.”
Joel Tew, a development attorney, cautioned the commissioners on trying to interfere with the free market they claim to support.
“Government is supposed to determine if use is consistent with the comp plan,” he said. “I’ve never seen a Pasco County Commission that tried to control the free marketplace. That is anathema to what you stand for.”
After much discussion and multiple attempts at a motion, Moore finally presented this wording: “[A] Moratorium on rezonings for conditional use applications for multifamily uses from the northern corner of U.S. 41 to the southern corner of State Road 52, not to include State Road 52 going east all the way up to Bruce B. Downs, and also including Wesley Chapel Boulevard, and all areas in between that would be south of 52.”
The motion passed 3-2, with Starkey and Oakley dissenting.
Andy Taylor, legislative aide to Moore, said the county attorney’s office and staff will have to prepare the moratorium. It will then go to the planning commission and full county commission. Dates for those meetings have not been set, but it is expected to take about 90 days to get to a first public hearing. If approved, the motion would take effect for 180 days, and could be extended.