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Seeking altruism and the center of Land O'Lakes

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By C. T. BOWEN, Pasco Times Editor of Editorials

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 12, 2003


Just over a month ago, easily overlooked by many in the holiday rush, contractors completed the widening of U.S. 41 between Bell Lake and Tower roads.

Yippee.

It marks the first time in seven years that Bob's Barricades haven't stood guard along a major road construction project in Land O'Lakes. Since the mid-1990s, state or county government has built State Road 56, extended County Line Road and widened North Dale Mabry Highway, U.S. 41, State Road 54 and Collier Parkway. So, as traffic rushes by impeded only by the occasional red light and the slower-moving vehicle at the front of the pack, it seems an appropriate time to pause and ponder this central Pasco community's future.

New roads mean new residents. Developers plan to turn long-dormant land into thousand-home neighborhoods. See: Dupree Gardens.

New residents mean a need for new schools. Pine View Elementary is now under construction on Parkway Boulevard, and the school district needs to build a new high school for central Pasco.

New residents also mean new commerce. The transformation of a former horse farm into Collier Commons, holding a Publix, Walgreens, Blockbuster and other stores at Collier and SR 54 comes to mind.

New, newer, newest.

Brad Arthur wants to preserve a piece of the old Land O'Lakes, the part with lakeside vistas, and cracker-style buildings. Arthur is one of the founders of the Heart of Land O'Lakes visioning group, culled together after neighbors objected to a planned grocery store at U.S. 41 and Bell Lake Road.

The store hasn't materialized (though new homes might), but, in the meantime, Heart of Land O'Lakes, with a grant from Pasco County, partnered with the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council to devise a visioning plan for a 1.5-mile segment of the community's center.

Arthur characterizes it as "creating a sense of place with a quality to it" as a way to distinguish Land O'Lakes from any other fast-growing suburban community.

It certainly is a precursor to the sector planning now being done as part of the update to the Pasco Comprehensive Land Use Plan. Though, oddly, after retaining the planning council to help devise the plan, the county now intends to study it again as part of the three-year-long review of the comp plan.

Translation? Slow this train down.

Too bad. Even disingenuous. Why advocate citizen planning if the idea is just to shelve the recommendations while new development continues at a breakneck pace?

The vision plan's emphasis is the creation of a town center, a place for residents to interact along sidewalks, stores and homes amid a park-like setting. It's sought because there is no downtown in Land O'Lakes even though the community pulse can be taken any Saturday at the Land O'Lakes Recreation Complex.

The idea of establishing architectural guidelines on private property is down the list -- way down -- after being greeted by boisterous objections from land owners.

It's difficult to legislate taste. Setting aesthetic standards on private buildings is bound to be controversial. Still, the next time you're driving around Land O' Lakes, be sure to notice the remodeled U.S. Postal Service branch office on U.S. 41, and take a gander at the state Health Department clinic south of Bell Lake Road, with their gabled entrances covered by metal roofs. Both buildings incorporate some of the design standards that have been labeled "crackeresque" by Heart of Land O'Lakes.

More important to the community's appearance is the recent enaction of a sign ordinance by the Pasco County Commission, banning future pole signs in favor of low-to-the-ground monuments. Check Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church's new sign along Collier Parkway for an example of future roadside identification.

But what will it take to develop a town center, one with a waterfront view, public space and commercial and residential development? The plan asks Pasco County to create a town center zoning allowing for higher housing density and reduced parking requirements as an inducement to create the public space.

"It's a tall order," admits Arthur.

Certainly, it will require altruism rarely seen in private development. Rare, but not unheard of entirely.

Adam Smith Enterprises, for instance, agreed to spend $15-million -- in 1987 dollars -- to create a better road network in southwest Pasco for Trinity Communities. (Nowadays, a developer would form a community development district, float the bonds and stick the homeowners with the tab.) Likewise, the developers of New River Township, between Wesley Chapel and Zephyrhills, talked to the county about donating considerable acres for youth recreation fields and other public purposes.

The goal is noble, even if the mechanics seem difficult.

"Quality of life is not totally dependent on commerce," said Arthur. "Interdependency between people makes a community."

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