Pasco County works to adapt to relaxed growth rules

NEW PORT RICHEY — Lawmakers this spring repealed decades of growth laws, tossing the thorny issue of managing new development to local governments. Now, Pasco officials are working through the implications.

State planners will oversee only the biggest projects. Developers will likely see streamlined rules. County commissioners will be the last line of defense against growth run amok.

Or, as Pasco's growth management chief Richard Gehring put it, state officials have switched roles from a strict helicopter parent to a permissive grandmother.

"That's what the state's done, they've said, 'It's okay, these governments can take care of themselves,' " Gehring said during a commission workshop this week.

The old Department of Community Affairs that used to oversee growth plans is no more. A shrunken version is now called the Department of Economic Opportunity. It still has about 30 planners that will review "adverse impacts on important state resources." In other words, state planning officials care about development that affects the Green Swamp. They no longer care about the intersection of State Road 52 and U.S. 41.

"When it's something that's really important, they go full bore on it," said senior county planner Carol Clarke. "I think it's going to be focusing on those things that are really important and not spending their efforts on little things all over the place."

One of the most talked about provisions of the new growth law is a concept called "concurrency." Under the old system, the state required new growth to be "concurrent" or supported by a certain level of schools, roads and parks. That requirement is gone. Concurrency is optional.

County officials recommend keeping concurrency for schools and parks, arguing those have posed few problems.

But developers have long had the biggest beef with transportation concurrency. They say the system is unpredictable and unfairly burdens "the last development on a block" that tips a road into a higher level of congestion. That development would pay higher fees, even though earlier developments also contribute to the problem.

Pasco officials already won state approval earlier this year to scrap concurrency mandates in the south and west areas of the county. The idea was to stay competitive with Pinellas and Hillsborough, which were exempted by lawmakers in 2009. Now, Gehring recommends doing away with the system countywide.

But, he said, the county still has "the responsibility to maintain a transportation system."

That means officials must devise a system to account for a major housing development on a substandard road. The system might allow for only a set number of homes to go in before either the county or the developer improves a nearby road.

In the coming weeks, commissioners also will set ideal congestion levels on roads across the county. In general, roads in rural areas will move more freely while urban roads will be more crowded.

But, as assistant county attorney David Goldstein warned, "you don't want to have so much congestion that the T. Rowes of the world stop coming here." In 2009, financial giant T. Rowe Price announced it would build a new campus in Odessa. One of the factors it cited was Pasco's road system.

Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6236.

Pasco County works to adapt to relaxed growth rules 07/20/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 20, 2011 9:59pm]

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