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As home buyers look to cities, suburban Hernando and Pasco try to adjust

Last week, we established that the housing market is changing, that more people want to live in cities, or at least want features of city living — short commutes, walkable neighborhoods, a break from the blight of vast parking lots and warehouse-like stores.

The national trend was documented in a 2013 book with a self-explanatory title, The End of the Suburbs; the local one by building permit numbers that show far more developer interest in Tampa than in outer-ring suburbs.

Obviously, this is a big deal for people in these suburbs — in Pasco and, especially, Hernando counties.

So, what are the counties doing about it?

In the interest of starting with the good news, Pasco has taken on the task of retrofitting some of the most thoughtless development in a state where standing out in that regard takes some doing.

In a plan approved last year, the decades-old sprawl on either side of U.S. 19 has been recast as the "West Market Area." The goals of this plan, according to the county's website, include "transforming U.S. 19 into a livable roadway … and encourag(ing) compact, walkable, mixed-use development."

Another big initiative aims to shape growth in the State Road 54/56 corridor around hubs served not just by roads, but by sidewalks, bike paths and mass transit.

The tricky part, of course, will be getting the cooperation of developers and landowners. But the county has already started to gather these players into a task force, said senior planner Richard Dutter.

The county also has taken a step in providing incentives to develop both of those main road corridors — 2011's "mobility fee," which gives transportation impact fee breaks for construction in neighborhoods served by adequate roads, and bigger breaks in neighborhoods that are also near future mass transit stops.

Even in Hernando, there's more going on than I realized, at least within the cubicles of the Planning Department.

Remember comprehensive plans? The state doesn't care if counties update these "blueprints for growth," but the county is rewriting its anyway, with a focus on getting rid of obstacles to smart growth.

These include current zoning laws that segregate housing from stores, restaurants and offices — a pattern that is just the opposite of mixed-use development found in bustling downtowns.

County zoning laws also cap housing density at 16 units per acre, not nearly enough to create vital urban cores, so planners are looking to change that, too. They are also modifying parking requirements that ensure stores and restaurants look like islands in seas of asphalt.

Somebody in the department also had enough on the ball to apply for a grant to redesign, with the help of experts from the University of South Florida, the Kass Circle neighborhood in Spring Hill.

Good planning, unfortunately, means nothing without the support of the Hernando County Commission, and I'm not optimistic, based on last year's decision on transportation impact fees.

The commission had a chance to approve a thoughtful system. It wasn't as ambitious as Pasco's mobility fee, but would have begun to focus growth and raise revenue.

The commission rejected it, doing nothing to move beyond its old pattern of development, the one that is coming to an end.

As home buyers look to cities, suburban Hernando and Pasco try to adjust 01/06/14 [Last modified: Monday, January 6, 2014 9:15pm]
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