NEW PORT RICHEY — A panel of out-of-state urban planning experts, hired by the Pasco Economic Development Council and the county to review Pasco's attractiveness as a business destination, recommended wide-ranging reforms Friday, focusing on the county's development review process.
The nine-member panel from the Urban Land Institute, an association of real estate interests, wrapped up a week of interviews with about 100 local public and private-sector representatives.
Among other points, it said:
• The five divisions of the county's development services department do not work together seamlessly. There was too much "planning by variance," which means rules are set and then just as readily changed to suit individual circumstances.
• A complex development review process was worsened by an understaffed development services department, which was overwhelmed in processing applications when growth surged from the late 1990s. Those interviewed said county staff were "not conversant with current best practices."
• There were complaints that the County Attorney's Office does not draft ordinances with input from development staff.
• There were calls to reduce the role of the Development Review Committee, made up of top staff planners, in interpreting growth laws.
The panel's parting words of advice to county officials? Be prepared to invest more time and money in reform, said Martin Cramton, a panelist from North Carolina. "This is not free," he said.
Gallagher said county staff had already been working on a lot of what the panel recommended.
But he's going to look more closely at the panel's full report, due in a week's time, before he decides specifically what he wants to do.
But in one respect, he said he's already doing what the panelists recommended: reforming the set-up of the development services department.
"We're doing that," Gallagher said. "I don't know where they got that from, but that's something (assistant county administrator) Bipin Parikh and I are already doing. It's going to show up in this year's budget."
The county's growth management and zoning divisions would be combined to improve communication between the two offices, Gallagher said.
Chuin-Wei Yap can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813)909-4613.