DADE CITY — Why do developers keep building the same big-box stores with huge parking lots in Pasco while putting up nicer ones in other communities?
Because they can, county planners say.
"There are two answers we hear over and over again," senior planner Richard Dutter said. "One, (Pasco officials) 'do not expect it' and two, 'they do not require it.' This has been going on for 30 years, and I think it's time we change."
County staff took a first step toward that change at a workshop Tuesday. Under the watchful eye of land-use attorneys, they presented a plan to county commissioners that showed how to make the most of the county's most densely populated areas, the State Road 54/56 and U.S. 19 corridors.
Both are the county's top areas for urban development and mass transit. Planning and Development director Richard Gehring recommends concentrating development in those areas to prevent sprawl.
The populations in those areas are expected to soar over the next several decades. With that comes the need to maximize space for businesses, decrease dependency on auto travel and create walkable areas for people to live, work, shop and play.
It's a future that also includes higher-rise buildings.
But that comes later, Gehring said. The key now is getting the framework in place so that areas can evolve, "so you don't have to rip the whole thing out and start over."
One example cited as an "opportunity lost" was the southwest corner of SR 54 and the Suncoast Parkway. Now the site of a Super Target, a strip center and several restaurants that front the highway, it's an example of traditional suburban development. Gehring said a more urban plan would have included parking lots on the side or behind buildings, and stores that face away from the main highway, which create more of a Main Street effect.
A few land-use attorneys expressed concern about rules applying to current projects or those soon to be in the works.
"We're worried this might cause a chilling effect on development we all so want in the urban service areas," attorney Clarke Hobby said. "We don't want to kill the goose that lays the golden egg."
Gehring reassured everyone that stakeholders would be included in drawing up the rules.
"We want a lot of players at many different levels and want them to get together and succeed," he said. "We see this as a big cookie jar with lots of cookies and a big opening."
The presentation comes five years after the county began an overhaul of its land development code based on the recommendation of the Urban Land Institute, a think tank of planners and developers who help revitalize communities.
The group is set to return next week to take another look at the county and determine where it should next focus its efforts.
Lisa Buie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4604.