NEW PORT RICHEY — New homes, shopping centers and other development should be a lot like car taillights: They meet the same standards but can look different based on the make and model of the car.
At least that's what architect and developer Frank Starkey thinks.
"They have to be visible, a certain shade of red," he said. "It's a performance standard that's utterly predictable but also is utterly flexible."
Starkey made his remarks Tuesday before a group composed mainly of builders, developers and attorneys who had gathered for an unveiling of new rules proposed for Pasco County development. The overhaul, the first done in years, aims to streamline the rules, cut out any duplication and simplify the permitting process. It also will make the process more open to the public, with projects posted on a new website.
"Our whole goal is to get things right the first time and help you through the process," said Cindy Jolly, the county's development director and one of the architects of the new rules.
They include eliminating the requirement that minor projects get approval from the county's top five administrators. Also, projects that meet codes also don't need to be brought before that group, called the Development Review Committee.
"If you still need a variance, I'm sorry, but you'll still have to face the five," Jolly said.
Those trying to put projects in the pipeline will be required to have preapplication meetings with county staffers to make sure they know what needs to be done. Previously, developers dropped plans off, only to be told later they were lacking in some way. Doing it that way just delays the project, Jolly said.
The new rules also group like items together. No more hunting though different books to find them scattered all over. For example, rules regarding fire protection and utilities are now in the same place, Jolly said.
The process also lists expected time frames for each step in the process and requires neighborhood notification and meetings for projects that tend to be controversial.
"Staff added those because you ended up going back and meeting with the neighborhood anyway," Jolly said.
The public also gets notice of projects earlier and can track them on the website.
The rule changes came about in response to business leaders' complaints that the process was too slow and put Pasco at a competitive disadvantage. The Pasco Economic Development Council and the county hired the Urban Land Institute, a panel of out-of-state urban planning experts, to review the county's attractiveness as a business destination. The result was a 2008 report that called for wide-ranging reforms, including streamlining the permitting process.
"We're trying to make sure we get it right every step of the way," said County Commissioner Jack Mariano. "This is a most important time for us to regroup during slow economic times, to make it business-friendly and developer-friendly so we can make Pasco County the premier place to come in and develop."
EDC president John Hagen said this is the first phase of a process that will grow more controversial as the county begins to tackle policy changes; the first phase dealt only with streamlining the permitting process.
"Now we get to the tough stuff," he said. "We need to keep professional respect for each other. We can disagree without being disagreeable. The heat level may go up in the room but if we stick with it we can come up with something really awesome."