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With plan, county can take control of growth
By Times editorial
Published June 6, 2007
Take a look at east Pasco, the portion north of Wesley Chapel's congestion and south of San Antonio and St. Leo. It has hills and lakes, agriculture land and rural homesteads.
Now, take a look into the future. The same area could be 28, 000 homes on 5- and 10-acre lots. It would be cost prohibitive to provide central water and sewer utilities so wells and septic systems, and the accompanying environmental problems, would prevail. The road network to serve all those vehicles driving 10 miles just to get a gallon of milk at the nearest commercial outpost would require eight lanes of traffic on Handcart and Curley roads and U.S. 301. It is the definition of sprawl.
Or, it could grow as much of the county has. There would be 45, 000 homes amid a sea of subdivisions on former farmland that has been rezoned to allow up to three homes per acre. We've seen that already and it is not particularly appealing.
Still better is an area with the same 45, 000 homes clustered among 14 villages amid the pleasing landscapes that draw people there in the first place. Residents would shop and dine and, hopefully, a few of them would even work, at the central business districts within each town center. Instead of walled communities and streets ending in cul-de-sacs, homes would line connected streets leading to open spaces at the edge of each village. The planned grid system eliminates the need for widening existing highways to six and eight lanes.
That is the vision for the Pasadena Hills study area, 20, 000 acres between State Roads 54 and 52 from Curley Road on the west to U.S. 301 on the east. Protecting the rural corridor along Fort King Highway, preserving Lake Pasadena and leaving out three previously approved planned developments in Wesley Chapel cuts the actual planning area to about 10, 000 acres. Developed by Pasco County in conjunction with the same consultants who rewrote the county's comprehensive land use plan, the Pasadena Hills project is an attempt to project 50 years of growth over rural acres already targeted for some development. Most of those immediate development ideas stalled, however, when commissioners declined to amend the existing land use plan.
The resulting Pasadena Hills plan is a much more palatable way to turn old Pasco into new urbanism. There are still plenty of details to finish, most notably: How do you pay for all the infrastructure in an area without a single, dominant landowner?
One idea is the tax increment financing method usually reserved for redevelopment. The county could designate the Pasadena Hills area as its own special district, persuade property owners to commit their land, and then ship back a portion of growing property tax revenues to pay off bonds that financed the improvements.
But even before the nuts and bolts are worked out, the private-sector landowners and public governments (already acquiescence from the city of San Antonio is needed for part of the plan) will need to agree on a long-term collaboration. County attempts at earlier rural protections in northeast Pasco sparked litigation from residents protesting the trampling of their property rights. A repeat would be inopportune.
Here's an idea to help build that collaborative spirit. Drive around south-central Pasco or the U.S. 19 corridor on the west side and ask the interested parties: Is this the legacy you want for east Pasco, too?
Pasco County has plenty of cookie-cutter housing developments occupied by people driving to other counties for employment. Meanwhile, the private sector's experimentation with traditional neighborhoods around town centers is still in its infancy at Connerton and Longleaf.
Mapping out a different long-range plan for Pasadena Hills is smart. East Pasco County will continue to attract new residents because of its proximity to Tampa, and commissioners are wise to define how they want the area to grow instead of waiting for piecemeal developments to land in their laps.