Conditional use for new apartments passes 3-2

On a rare 3-2 vote, Zephyrhills City Council approved a conditional use resolution allowing for a proposed 144-unit apartment complex to rise to four stories instead of two.

The Nick Apartments, planned to be built on 10.63 acres along Fort King Road between the Summerset Apartments and the Valleydale Mobile Home Park, received its blessing from council members Lance Smith, Jodi Wilkeson and Alan Knight. Opposed to the project were Ken Burgess and Charlie Proctor.

Burgess insisted that now is the time for the city to “pump the brakes” on development.

“I’m going to be opposed to conditional uses and projects until we solve some of our problems,” Burgess said.

Burgess suggested that the city put development in reverse and go back to the regulations where multi-family units be restricted back from 20 units per acre to 14 units per acre.

Burgess remained steadfast despite the initial plans for the property was for 168 townhomes, 24 more units than the current apartment plans.

The reduction in density and the need for market value housing to attract young people to stay in Zephyrhills were the factors that Councilman Lance Smith stood behind in his support for the project.

“If we’re looking for these young people to stay here, we need a product for them,” explained Smith. “They aren’t ready to buy a house yet. They haven’t made the commitment. For a couple reasons, I’m for this.

He is concerned about the traffic in the area on and around Fort King Road. A condition of the approval was the installation of turn lanes on Fort King Road at the two entrances of the apartment complex. The developer will also install a turn lane at the traffic light at Fort King Road and Eiland Boulevard.

Proctor said he finally put his foot on the brakes of the development after years of approving conditional use requests.

“I am concerned,” Proctor said. I have approved every conditional use that has come before for the last many years. I am not antigrowth. We have serious issues we need to address. We have to start somewhere. I am not going for it.

“There are so many concerns. If we approve this one and the next, we need to put the brakes on and try to solve some of these issues we’re facing.”

Residents of neighboring Valleydale attended the meeting pleading with members of council to reject the conditional use.

Planning commission member Kevin Bahr told members of council that growth has almost become “out of control” in the city. He urged city council to be conscious of potential water issues and the congestion of the roads in regards to future growth.

Prior to the vote, it appeared obvious that Wilkeson and Smith were in favor and Burgess and Proctor were opposed. The deciding vote came down to council president Knight.

“We’re all concerned about water and traffic,” Knight said. “Zephyrhills is really growing. We have to consider everything. Four stories looks really good to me. It looks better than two stories. Do we want to fall into the idea that Zephyrhills is going to all these restrictions.

“People bend my ear that Zephyrhills is growing and how it was when Neukom’s was downtown. Those days are long gone. We’re never going to see them. Zephyrhills is exploding.”

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