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© St. Petersburg Times, published August 25, 2002
When I first came to New Port Richey in 1973, I was dropping in to visit an old buddy I had worked with in Illinois who had come to work for the St. Petersburg Times.
"I have the address and it's not that big a town," I told the woman riding with me. "We'll just drive around until we find it."
Forgive me, I was young and innocent in the ways of uncontrolled development.
What I found was, indeed, a small town, surrounded by thousands of acres of planned communities with purposefully winding streets having names instead of numbers (sometimes as many as four streets in different developments with the same name) and with each planned community having only one combined entrance/exit.
Being a cop or a firefighter in this burg, I thought, must be hell.
And it was, I'm told.
I grew up in Miami, a town of many failings, but which, at least, was laid out on a simple numbered grid system that made it possible to find just about anybody simply by knowing his or her address.
Here we have a plethora of streets named after everything from trees and birds to cartoon characters and, in at least a couple of cases, developers' children.
A numbered street is thrown in every once in a while just for grins, but I have rarely been able to go anywhere in Pasco County without a page and a half of directions.
Now, as the Pasco County Commission wrestles with plans for a large residential development in Land O'Lakes, the old west Pasco can't-get-there-from-here syndrome raises its ugly head in the new home of slightly more controlled development, central Pasco.
The question is whether adjoining communities should connect without forcing traffic back out onto arterial roads to get from one to the other.
County policy, if you can call it that, is that there should be other connecting roads. That stance isn't always popular with residents, who disagree for a variety of reasons.
Sometimes developments don't want to connect because one is primarily inhabited by elderly residents and the other by residents with children. Sometimes residents of upscale neighborhoods don't want to be linked with less fortunate neighbors.
Residents in a battle between two adjoining communities in west Pasco engaged in finger pointing (both index and middle), shouting, harassment and protest signs. Police were called.
In these instances the disputes have really been about traffic. Sometimes the vernacular of traffic engineering is used to cloak less socially acceptable biases, such as racism or downright snobbery, and connecting residential developments can have as much to do with creating community as improving traffic flow.
When the sprawl of development began spreading up the west coast of Florida 40 years ago with the advent of the "fifty-nine-ninety," (the cost of the average tract house back then) it did so without zoning or subdivision regulations or even a building code. Those things didn't come along until the mid 1970s and, along with a healthy dose of corruption, created problems we are still dealing with today. Hernando County had a slight warning in watching what happened in Pasco, and Citrus had the advantage of seeing what happened in its two southern neighbors.
For my money, they benefitted from that.
Now, as development spreads east, Pasco commissioners have the opportunity to look, literally, into their own back yards and see what has to be done to avoid past mistakes.
It might be unrealistic to hope that developers won't manage, in the end, to turn Florida into one big planned community.
But if they do, it would be nice if we could at least find our way around it.