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Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Pasco plans industrial site on utility property

DADE CITY – Commissioner Jack Mariano remembers the message from economist William Fruth.

Just seven months after Mariano joined the commission in 2004, Fruth, of Palm City, told the county’s elected and appointed officials that Pasco should explore developing its own industrial park to ensure all the desirable locations weren’t swallowed up by the residential construction boom.

Mariano relayed the notion to Bill Cronin when he assumed the job of president/CEO of the Pasco Economic Development Council two years ago. Mariano even had a location in mind – a former spray field along Interstate 75, owned by Pasco County Utilities.

Pasco’s Development Review Committee took the first step toward making that idea a reality last week when it unanimously approved a land-use change to turn the 91-acre field into an industrial recruiting site.

"It’s right there along I-75,’’ Mariano said in an interview. "What better place to put it than on land we own?’’

But going from effluent catcher to employment center won’t be immediate. The vote by the committee — top county government administrators and a school district representative — essentially is a paper shuffle, allowing development on land that had been designated for a public purpose.

County commissioners still must approve it, though that seems all but guaranteed. However, the county may have to win over critics who object to the location and the philosophy of a government-endorsed industrial or office park.

"It is not the county’s job to build office park space then lease it out and manage it," Anthony Perugini of Wesley Chapel said in an email to commissioners. "Sell the land to a private developer, and then they can do what they see fit with this or else leave the land as is. This is ridiculous.’’

Others have more personal objections. Dennis and Edith Seeton of Baypines Drive said they fear that noise and light pollution from industrial development will harm their seizure-prone 14-year-old son who has cerebral palsy. Their lot backs up to Old Pasco Road, directly across the two-lane road from the county-owned site.

Others in the Williams Acres subdivision told the Development Review Committee they worried about declining property values and commercial intrusion into their largely rural neighborhood. Some asked that the parcel be designated for more homes.

"We have enough residential approved in the county,’’ said Chris Williams, the school district representative on the committee.

The idea is to lure better-paying jobs to Pasco County to stem the daily exodus of nearly half its workforce to other counties. Officials also hope to curb the reliance on residential-home construction and the service sector as the backbone of the local economy.

One of the long-term drawbacks to that strategy has been the unavailability of site-ready industrial locations. It brings a familiar refrain from the county’s top job-recruiter.

"We need more product,’’ Bill Cronin, CEO/president of the Pasco Economic Development Council, said in an interview.

Toward that end, the county has approved two loan agreements to private-sector developers for Class A office space and industrial spec buildings. The PEDC and a consulting firm are identifying other open land around the county that can be turned into development-ready industrial sites.

How the county-owned land between Interstate 75 and Old Pasco Road develops remains in question. County Administrator Dan Biles said he would prefer to sell the property rather than turn the county into a landlord, but all prospects will be considered. That could mean forming an industrial development agency to manage the property, said Cronin.

The property, southeast of Overpass and Old Pasco roads in the center of the county, sits directly across Interstate 75 from a county utilities sewage treatment plant in Wesley Chapel. There is universal agreement that a key to developing the site is the planned construction of a new interstate exit at Overpass Road, which is not expected to begin for four more years.

But even easy access to the interstate doesn’t mean a large-scale warehouse operation will be coming. At 91 acres, the site is less than half the size of the Wal-Mart Distribution Center property in neighboring Hernando County. The site may be most attractive for light industry or a smaller distribution business, said Cronin.

Contact C.T. Bowen at [email protected] or (813) 435-7306. Follow @ctbowen2

PAST COVERAGE: Pasco to add high-end office space.

PAST COVERAGE: Pasco loans $7 million for spec space.

Contact C.T. Bowen at [email protected] or (813) 435-7306. Follow @ctbowen2

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