NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco commissioners voted Tuesday to offer $1.35 million settlement to the property owners whose lawsuit overturned the county’s right-of-way ordinance.
“I hope it will put this to rest,” Commission Chairman Ted Schrader said. “I look forward to putting it behind us.”
The offer is significantly lower than the $5.88 million settlement commissioners rejected earlier this year. County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder said he feels confident the owners of Hillcrest Preserve will accept it.
The proposed settlement would pay the owners of Hillcrest for 100 feet of right-of-way taking and some legal fees, but the county’s appeal on whether the ordinance is constitutional would still go forward.
Federal Judge Steven Merryday ruled the 2005 ordinance, which let the county demand land in exchange for zoning and development rights, was unconstitutional. He likened it to an illegal “land grab.”
Hillcrest Preserve founder Mike Kass and his business-partner, George Karpay, sued the county when officials demanded they donate 140 feet of right-of-way fronting their property on State Road 52 as a condition of approval for a shopping center. Karpay died four days before Merryday issued his ruling. His son, Kenneth Karpay, is now a principal partner.
Their attorney, David Smolker, said he could not comment on the likelihood of a settlement. “It’s still a fluid situation,” he said.
Schrader said the ongoing litigation could impede the county’s plans to widen S.R. 52. “We want to enhance that corridor,” he said. “That is a major east-west road, and we’re hoping that Sens. [Wilton] Simpson and [John] Legg can help us secure funding from the legislature for those improvements.”
Commissioners already revised the ordinance to address Merryday’s concerns. Under the new provision, the county would require the right-of-way dedication only if the applicant’s project would generate enough traffic to warrant a future road improvement.
But they are appealing Merryday’s ruling to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal. If the county loses the appeal, it could be facing hundreds of claims from property owners and developers who were required to donate land as a condition for a rezoning or building permit.
If the plaintiffs accept the offer, the funding would come from either gas tax revenues or mobility fees, Steinsnyder said.