A glimpse of two places and their growing pains

A Times Editorial
Published October 8, 2006

Call this a tale of two traffic-conscious cities.

We'll start in New Port Richey, where nearly every front-burner issue confronting the city is tied to its long-term commitment to redevelopment.

It has ambitions for higher-income residents living downtown and walking to shop or dine at current and future businesses. It advocates neighborhood improvements and is still seeking someone to devise a suitable way to make use of the historic Hacienda building. It wants the proposed Railroad Square to become a pedestrian friendly district to bring outsiders into downtown.

All of it is part of the effort known as redevelopment in which existing, developed parcels are improved by refurbishing the current structures or by knocking them down and building anew. The local government so embraced the formula that it approved a 30-year citywide redevelopment plan as a way to enhance the tax base because of limited annexation opportunities.

So, now it is curious to see New Port Richey's City Council opposing redevelopment elsewhere.

Yep. Council voted 5-0 last week to oppose redeveloping 25 acres that had been a lumberyard and car lot on the southwest corner of State Road 54 and Grand Boulevard, south of the city.

The redeveloped lots would "bring with them a crime element that would have a negative impact on the quality of residential life in the neighboring and adjacent communities," the council thundered in a resolution to Pasco County commissioners.

The new enterprise, the resolution said, "will negatively impact the local businesses in the Main Street and Grand Boulevard downtown area of New Port Richey simply by siphoning retail business away from them."

Ridiculous, right?

Except the redeveloper is Wal-Mart and the site is to become a 190,000 square-foot supercenter. Neighbors are opposed.

City Council, smelling a political winner, jumped on the bandwagon and announced its opposition, citing, among other things, rising crime rates and higher traffic counts. It did not hear from Wal-Mart or consult a traffic engineer, criminologist or economist before approving the resolution.

Neighborhood concerns about two-lane Grand Boulevard are understandable. But, the same gripes coming from the city are hypocritical. The city-financed downtown improvements of the 1990s included the strategy of reducing the number of traffic lanes on Main Street in order to slow motorists and encourage them to take note of downtown's offerings.

We also are at a loss to think of a downtown business that will compete against a Wal-Mart Supercenter. There is no downtown grocery, other than two convenience stores, and the few speciality shops in the downtown corridor aren't likely to have inventory comparable to a discount retailer. The biggest loser just might be another member of the Wal-Mart family, Sam's Club, at U.S. 19 and Trouble Creek Road.

Of course, this city isn't the only government concerned about redevelopment's effect on traffic.

Across the county sits Dade City where an empty storefront that formerly housed a Radio Shack is being renovated into a Beef O'Brady's restaurant and sports pub. It is on Seventh Street, the main-north-south route through downtown. The Historic Pasco County Courthouse sits nearby.

The County Commission's reaction to this new venture in the county seat? They put up new signs along Eighth Street reserving seven parking spots for themselves and their staff.

In other words, downtown shoppers including chicken-wing chomping Little Leaguers and their voting parents take a back seat to commissioners' convenience.

It is an insult to downtown merchants to reserve the parking spaces five days a week when commissioners meet in Dade City just one day a month.

The spots are on land owned by the county, so it is within its rights to snag the parking. But, here's an idea. Cover the reserved signs on the 21 of the 22 workdays each month that the commission isn't meeting at the courthouse.

By doing so, commissioners won't seem so arrogant. They also can demonstrate to New Port Richey they value intergovernmental cooperation when it comes to redevelopment.

Reach C.T. Bowen at bowen@sptimes.com or at 727-869-6239.