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Pasco commissioners contemplate changes to planning process

DADE CITY — Pasco County commissioners rarely fail to rubber-stamp recommendations by their Local Planning Agency.

That isn't exactly surprising: Commissioners, plus a school district representative, are the members of the planning agency, the state-mandated body that gives a preliminary yea or nay to the county's biggest development proposals and changes to the Pasco land-use plan. Wearing different hats, commissioners end up voting twice on the same projects.

But that awkward arrangement would change under a host of recommendations by the county staff to shake up how development gets approved in Pasco County.

Among those proposals:

• Designating top county administrators, who sit on the Development Review Committee, as the new Local Planning Agency. That means the administrators would hold public hearings and make recommendations to commissioners.

• Shrinking the size and duties of the Planning Commission, an 11-member board of appointed residents, and setting criteria for appointments.

• Phasing out many of the Development Review Committee's duties by allowing lower level staffers to approve certain smaller scale projects based on a new land development code.

The proposed changes, expected to shave weeks off the development approval process, stop short of a consultant's 2008 recommendations that called for disbanding the Development Review Committee all together.

The Urban Land Institute said then that the DRC, where administrators often hash out the details with developers and opponents, was cumbersome and uncertain.

But the proposals, which commissioners took under consideration Tuesday, raise questions about the balance between getting developers a speedier decision on their projects and letting residents have a say in the process.

Commissioner Ted Schrader said the Planning Commission was really not in the planning business; its duties would instead focus on routine zoning cases. "When you talk about planning, it's more visionary," he said, suggesting the board might even consider changing the panel's name.

County Administrator John Gallagher said one thing the board could consider is turning over the function of making recommendations on major developments to the Planning Commission.

"That's the guts of how you want your community shaped," he said. "Think about it."

Officials noted that planning commissioners aren't always equipped with the technical expertise on projects. But County Attorney Jeff Steinsnyder said that planning commissions worked.

"It's the quality of the person you put on the board and the amount of time they're willing to put into it," he said.

Another idea floated at Tuesday's meeting: Let two residents serve on the DRC.

Trilby community activist Richard Riley told commissioners they would need to address what type of residents they would want doing that.

"I want to differentiate between Richard Riley in the public and (development lawyer) Clarke Hobby in the public," he said. "I'd hope you'd differentiate between those who would financially benefit from it and those who would philosophically benefit from it."

Also under the proposal, the county staff could approve certain projects if they met the new code. Such projects include small commercial developments, professional offices and some multifamily housing.

In 2008-09, there were 40 of those types of developments. The next year, there were 17.

Another proposal includes removing Assistant County Administrator Bipin Parikh from the DRC and replacing him with Pasco Economic Development Council president John Hagen.

Officials reasoned that the move would free up Parikh to advocate for the county staff's position on transportation items, typically the most controversial development issues.

No one had a bad thing to say about the move, including Parikh.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Pasco commissioners contemplate changes to planning process 08/03/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 3, 2010 8:47pm]
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