The neighbors wanted a garden. Pasco may sell the land to developers instead.
Residents of Heritage Lake and Riverside Village have had their eye on the 41-acre parcel for nearly a decade, fought an apartment complex planned there and convinced the county to buy the land for a potential park.
But after some citizens questioned how much the park might cost on their tax bills last year, the commission delayed action on turning the site into a private passive park. Now the authority has returned to the idea of allowing residential development on the site.
On Tuesday, commissioners will consider declaring surplus property and making it available for purchase. While nearby residents originally protested an apartment complex planned for the site, use of the new development would be restricted, according to Andrew Baxter, the county’s director of facilities management.
The lot would be limited to 100 units of townhomes, which is what current zoning allows, or single-family homes. The buyer would need to request rezoning of the detached residence at their expense, according to Baxter’s memo to the commission. Regardless of the type of housing, it cannot be for rentals and the purchase price of the land must be at least $3 million.
The county will also maintain easements, up to 60 feet wide, to connect a potential multi-use trail from Sebring Drive to Amazon Drive, and up to 20 feet along Amazon Drive.
In 2007, developer Chris Scherer purchased the land for $1.5 million, and over the next several years, he made plans to build 240 apartments. Residents near Heritage Lake and Riverside Village rallied at district meetings to urge officials to reject the project because they said it would disrupt traffic and change the character of the area.
In 2014, the authority agreed to pay $3 million to buy the site and protect it from development, and to recover that money through a special appraisal. County officials met with nearby homeowner groups and decided that the site would be preserved as open space and that residents who live within a half-mile walk of the property would be part of the evaluation.
The development’s new playground does not sit well with nearby resident William Day.
“This is still a problem for me,” he said. “Why has all this been put off for so long? I smell a rat.”
The county made the purchase but delayed evaluating the cost of turning the land into a park for years, Day said. Part of that delay was the county’s hope that the state would reimburse Pasco for the purchase, but that did not happen. Then last year, residents were told their bill to pay for the park would be $164.80 for the first year and $135.56 for the next 14 years. Some residents protested.
The long delay between the purchase proposal and the evaluation meant that many of those who originally wanted to keep more traffic and housing out of their neighborhoods weren’t there to protest or lost interest in the topic, making it easier for the county to bring up development again, Day said.
Last year, Commissioner Jack Mariano said he thought the property would be a good place for another subdivision like the one surrounding it, while Commissioner Katherine Starkey said it was clearly not what nearby residents wanted.
According to Baxter, simply declaring surplus land does not mean developing it, but it is a necessary first step. If a surplus is declared, the county seeks purchase offers, which will be submitted to the county commission. The final decision on whether to sell the land rests with the commissioners.
Fred Colucci, another nearby resident who expressed concerns to the commission last year, said the homeowners association appears to be OK with allowing the county to declare the site surplus. But he also knows that those who were originally concerned about what could be built there didn’t want to see townhouses.
“Townhomes were the problem initially,” he said.