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Amazon Drive Apartment Decision Delayed

It remains unclear if Pasco County will allow a developer to build an apartment complex near a community of single-family homes.

A developer's plan to build an apartment complex in a  single-family home residential neighborhood in unincorporated New Port Richey remains on hold as Pasco County officials continue to explore the request.

Residents in the neighborhood, just east of Little Road, near where the complex would be built have concerns and they've brought them up with the county. 

On Thursday, We Are 5,533 Strong, a group that opposes the apartments, urged in an appeal hearing with the Pasco County Development Review Committee for county officials to stop the proposed apartment project. County staff have said that the project meets the county's land use codes.

Instead of deciding to reject or accept the appeal, county officials decided to grant a continuance and pick the case up again in January. The vote to grant continuance was made after County Administrator John Gallagher expressed concern about the developer’s plans to address drainage.

"I used to think engineering was a science before became a county administrator," he said.

Neighbors of the project have been expressing opposition to the apartment complex for months.

Clearwater-based Scherer Development is the developer behind the project. The complex is to be called Oaks at Riverside Village, and will be located on 41 acres along Amazon Drive, east of Little Road. The complex will have 102 units in six, two-story buildings, although that is in phase one of the development, with the possibility of more in phase 2.

The property is zoned for multi-family development, but it is surrounded by subdivisions of single family homes, including Heritage Lake, Southern Oaks and Riverside Village.

County development staff approved the project Sept. 14, and the opposition group appealed in October. The appeal was based on the claim the plan did not comply with the county’s land development code.  

Residents impacted by the project have expressed concern about the project increasing flooding potential in the area. They're also worried it will increase traffic on local roads, such as St. Lawrence Drive. They’ve complained it could lower property values, the complex does not fit the area and that the apartments could be come government subsidized housing.

"I can assure you many of us here right now would not have considered buying places if this apartments were here when we we were trying to buy a home," said Bill Gillies, President of 5,533 Strong. 

The developer has submitted numerous reports on the potential impact of the development to the county, said attorney Barbara Wilhite, who is representing Scherer Development. County staff found the developer was in compliance with county's Comprehensive Land Use Plan. Scherer Development had a neighborhood meeting in April that was attended by 400-500 people.

“We have requirements,” Wilhite said. “We have met the requirements. Your staff has stated that, and we’d like for you to uphold it so we can move forward.”

The group name We Are 5,533 Strong refers to the numbers of voters impacted by the apartments, according its members. The group has 12 board members, including impacted homeowners and State Rep. Mike Fasano, who lived in Heritage Lake when the project was proposed.

Fasano says that residents of Heritage Lakes were not notified of the State Department of Environmental Protection’s June 6 review of the project’s impact on stormwater runoff.  Heritage Lake homeowners have notified the DEP of this problem.

Residents also are hiring their own engineer review the developer's drainage plan, but he was not at the hearing and has not been ablr to get some info from the DEP.

Flooding became a problem after Tropical Storm Debby. Fasano said people were trapped in homes. Residents of Thousand Oaks and Trinity Oaks subdivisions, just a couple miles away, have complained about the same thing to the county.

Gallagher expressed concerns about the drainage plans. The county’s had drainage problems, he acknowledged. 

"It bothers me" that the residents have not had a chance to weigh in on the drainage plans.

“Go ahead and let them look at the drainage plans,” he said

An engineer with Scherer development said his plans for the project had less pervious area than a previously proposed project that was approved in 2005. That plan was for single family homes.

Gallagher questioned on the engineer on analysis and changes. The engineer acknowledged data was based on information that is  nearly 10 years old.

He asked if the engineer would object to review of his studies, to which he replied he had nothing to hide. A motion was made to grant continuance, and the committee approved. Gallagher also cautioned that 5,533 should have its expert present and ready in January.

There was a sea of people, crowded most of the seats at the hearing, and members of the audience spoke up in support of the applicants. When Fasano asked at one point who in the audience wanted to be part of the group, the chamber was full of raised hands.

"This county has the ability to put enough pressure, expense, on the developer to stop him or her from putting those apartments on there because of the flooding problem, because of the transportation issue , based on what we've seen just in the past few months," Fasano said.

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