When county commissioners finally overhaul rules that dictate such things as how many trees a new development must plant and how far it must sit from the road, business leaders want to make sure they have a place at the table. Likewise for when they decide whether to change the way the county requires new developments to help pay for roads.
"A lot of moving pieces have been put into place," John Hagen, CEO of the Pasco Economic Development Council, said last week to the council's economic competitiveness committee. The group relays its findings to the EDC board of directors, which then could adopt an official position.
Hagen recalled how the rewrite of the rules, known as the land development code, came about due to the EDC's influence.
The organization 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.
"The whole (review process) started with us and the county going down this road together," said Hagen, who at that time served in a similar job in Arizona. "We want to make sure everyone's on the same page and make contributions from the private sector come out smoothly rather than in a public meeting where somebody's yelling."
The public meetings for the first phase of the land development code rewrite will start next week and run through early February, though final approval isn't expected until spring.
At the same time, the county also is considering changing the fees it charges development for new roads. For 25 years, Pasco and other Florida counties have sought to pay for new roads primarily with assessments on construction — so-called impact fees. Builders have traditionally fought impact fees, claiming they hinder sales.
Under the proposed plan, made possible by Senate Bill 360, new construction would still have to pay a fee — now dubbed a "mobility fee" — that will be cheaper than the current impact fees. (The legislation was declared unconstitutional but is essentially still in effect.) In addition, all property owners would be charged a $50 annual fee, and motorists would pay an extra 5 cents a gallon in gasoline taxes.
So far the proposal appears to lack enough support, with Commissioners Ted Schrader, Jack Mariano and Henry Wilson Jr. opposing it. Increasing the gas tax requires a four-fifths majority.
"I just don't think the timing is right," said Schrader, who pointed out that gasoline costs already are more than $3 a gallon and steadily rising, with some analysts predicting $5 by summer. The county also is facing another tough budget year, with services likely being cut.
"I don't think it's right when we're looking at closing libraries and cutting down on parks to tell people they have to pay another $50," he said.
The majority of the e-mails he has received are from those who opposed the proposed fee structure, he said.
"They paid their impact fees," Schrader said. "They feel like they're being charged extra to assist the developer."
Staff writer Jodie Tillman contributed to this report. Lisa Buie can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4604.