Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Business

DeWitt: Urban planning brings beauty, value

Don't underestimate the economic power of ugliness.

And don't try to tell me that good urban planning can't help prevent it.

I started thinking about this after seeing the tax revenue estimates from the property appraisers' offices in Hernando and Pasco counties.

While real estate values in other parts of the state have started to rebound nicely, in our two counties they're stuck at the bottom. At least for now.

Why?

Take a look at the U.S. 19 corridor in western Pasco that is pulling down the county average.

Or don't look. Because it hurts.

Not too long ago, I got turned around while trying to find the home of a friend in the Beacon Woods subdivision and was treated to an unwelcome tour of warehouse-like big box stores; vast, treeless parking lots, and hundreds of smaller lots with their own, individual, often pothole-riddled driveways reaching out to U.S. 19.

This has to be one reason why western Pasco not only has declining property values, but increasing rates of vacant homes and decreasing numbers of houses occupied by owners rather than renters. And why, in turn, it's become a market where chain stores that you think never close, do close — including the west Pasco Target in 2009.

If the view along U.S. 19 in Hernando is a little less painful — and it's just a little — that's partly because more of it was developed after smarter planning concepts became common: frontage roads, ordinances requiring more landscaping and the dressing up of big standalone stores.

Likewise, the regions of Pasco that are increasing in value include ones anchored by the mixed-use Trinity subdivision and the Shops of Wiregrass, "which is held out as an example of good commercial development," said chief assistant county attorney David A. Goldstein.

You might say the big factor here is age, that of course the newer the neighborhood the better it's doing.

I say — and I can think of a hundred examples — that values of well-conceived communities don't have to degrade over time.

It might all seem obvious, that appearance goes hand in hand with value. But too much of Florida was built on the assumption that we don't worry about that stuff; we have sunshine and cheap living. And when the state disbanded its Department of Community Affairs two years ago, it showed that many of us haven't learned our lesson.

Fortunately, there are signs that Pasco has. In 2011, it adopted impact fees that reward building on or near highways like U.S. 19. County planners also have written an ambitious plan to reimagine the U.S. 19 corridor that the commission could adopt before the end of the month.

There's nothing like that working in Hernando, where the commission recently dismissed the idea of an impact fee system that encourages smarter growth. In fact, it put off charging any fees at all until August 2014.

We may not be good-looking, but we sure are cheap.

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