ST. LEO — Town commissioners this month voted to begin annexation negotiations with the Iafrate family for 179 acres at the corner of Prospect Road and State Road 52.
The unanimous vote — despite harsh objections from Pasco County — comes at the same time the town is looking for a legal way to de-annex Lake Jovita residents who complain they get no services in exchange for paying town taxes.
The Iafrates family recently lost a seven-year battle with Pasco and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to build a landfill on their property southeast of Dade City.
Their attorney, Jake Varn, said the Iafrates have no plans to develop the St. Leo property. But if they do, they want to avoid any future dealings with Pasco County.
“Our experience is we think we would deal much better with the town of St. Leo, and we’re more compatible with what we think St. Leo wants to do,” Varn said.
The Iafrates already own an adjacent 20-acre parcel that has been in the town limits since the 1970s.
“Currently we’ve got property in the town and property outside the town, which for us makes the matter a little more complex,” Varn said. “It’s one of the reasons we’d like to put all of the property in the town, so we only have to deal with one governmental body as opposed to two. Dealing with one is difficult enough, let alone dealing with two.”
Relations between town and county officials have gotten testy, as well.
“I don’t know. I just get the feeling that they want it all,” town commissioner Donna DeWitt said.
Town commissioners and their city attorney, Patricia Petruff, took offense to a letter from County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder objecting to the annexation.
In the letter, Steinsnyder outlines a host of reasons why the town should reject the annexation — mainly because it must outsource basic services, such as water, sewer, police and garbage collection — and because it lacks the expertise to make sure the Iafrates develop the property “in a manner that is consistent” with the adjacent Villages of Pasadena Hills plan.
Steinsnyder also pointed out the disparity in impact fees. The town charges $1,000 transportation impact fee for each single-family home, while Pasco County’s mobility fees in rural areas could be 10 times that amount. That means the county and developers in Pasadena Hills would end up subsidizing road improvements for town residents.
Petruff said the tone from the letter and in a subsequent meeting with Steinsnyder was insulting.
“I disagree with the fact that we don’t have the expertise,” she said. “I have been a local government attorney for a decade longer than the county attorney.”
The town’s planner, Jan Norsoph, said the county ignored St. Leo’s concerns over the density and road network planned in Pasadena Hills. Both he and Petruff will serve on a committee, along with DeWitt, to negotiate a pre-annexation agreement that would spell out what exactly the Iafrates could do with the property.
“If we can’t agree on what the appropriate use of the property is, then the annexation might not occur at all,” he said.