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A misguided courtesy leads to faulty governing
A Times Editorial
Published June 21, 2007
Pasco commissioners are elected countywide, but they frequently acquiesce to the preferences of the resident representative when it comes to zoning issues. It's a mistaken courtesy that leads to flawed land-use decisions based on political pandering rather than sound evidence. The most recent instance just brought a court victory for a land owner (denied appropriate use of his property) and now a request for nearly $8.9-million in damages from the county.
Though a substantial monetary payout isn't likely, Metro Development Group is expected to be allowed a rehearing before the commission. In September, after multiple delays, the commission ignored its own staff's recommendations, and rejected Metro's request to build 78 homes on 39 acres. It was a reduction of the company's original plan to build 108 homes on agricultural property in Hudson that is designated for three homes per acre on the county's future land use map.
Commissioner Jack Mariano argued the housing density wasn't compatible with surrounding properties (even though the adjacent land can have six homes per acres) and made the motion to deny the developer's request and to rezone the land to no more than one home per acre, or 39 homes maximum. The one-home per-acre standard had been supported by most of the 11 neighbors who objected to the proposed rezoning at an earlier commission hearing. Commissioner Pat Mulieri and former Commissioner Steve Simon agreed with Mariano, but commissioners Ann Hildebrand and Ted Schrader dissented.
Simon said he supported Mariano as the resident commissioner, but also offered an accurate prediction that the developer would challenge in court and that 78 homes with "a good-sized buffer and some reasonable level of restrictions may be a heck of a lot better than 120 (homes) rammed down your throat with no concessions."
Mulieri recently told the Tampa Tribune she too supported Mariano's motion because she believed he had better knowledge of the area as the resident commissioner. It is a dubious rationalization. Mulieri has been an elected county commissioner longer than Mariano has lived in Florida.
Pandering to neighbors' objections is a routine occurrence on the commission dais, but sentimentality is not the appropriate litmus test for a quasi judicial board. Commissioners must hear fact-based testimony, data from traffic studies, real estate appraisals or similarly scientific methodology to back up contentions a development will be unsafe, lower property values or be incompatible. In this case, Metro pointed out the land-use plan allowed for even more homes and the county's water and sewer lines to the area had been oversized in anticipation of new residential density.
The commission's decision to downzone the land to one home per acre ignored that land-use plan and denied the property owner due process of law, a three-judge panel ruled earlier this month. The commission's actions "unilaterally changed its zoning map without notice, without hearing, without evidence and without following the essential requirements of law, " read the order signed by Circuit Judges W. Lowell Bray, Daniel Diskey and Stanley Mills.
The judges agreed with Metro's attorney that "the county's governing board did no more than acquiesce to the resident commissioner's whims and desires for development in his geographic district and thereby ignored all the facts and evidence presented by his own staff, all of its advisory boards and the petitioner."
Supporting your fellow commissioner might buy you a future chit when faced with your own crowd of angry neighbors, but it is no way to decide how Pasco County will look in the future. Bending to the sentiment of a resident commissioner is faulty governing, particularly when the commissioner's own logic is equally as faulty.