DADE CITY — One of the chief knocks about Pasco's new strategy to concentrate new growth in urban areas is the potential harm to rural landowners.
As fees stay high for rural development and the county greases the skids for high-density projects in south and west Pasco, it becomes less profitable for a farmer to sell his land for a subdivision.
Officials say that strategy helps reduce urban sprawl. But it also hurts the farmer.
Enter an idea called transfer of development rights. Rural landowners would keep title to their land but agree to keep it undeveloped. They would then sell — at roughly $5,000 per unit — the rights to build homes that could have gone on their land.
Multiply that by the roughly 37,000 dwelling units expected to be available from the rural or "sending" area.
"We're creating almost $200 million worth of land value in the sending area for property owners," retired University of Florida land use professor Jim Nicholas told county commissioners at a workshop Tuesday morning.
To be eligible, owners must have at least 20 acres, with up to half of that as wetlands. Most public property is exempt, as are areas already designated as conservation parcels or employment centers.
Rural owners can apply to create a special easement on their property and would receive a certificate of their development rights. They could then sell those rights to developers through a registry maintained by the county.
To encourage participation in the first year, rural owners would get two credits for each dwelling unit they sell.
Sound good? Well, not so fast. Tuesday was the first detailed public debut of the program, and officials are several workshops away from hammering out the details.
"The county has some laudable goals," said Clarke Hobby, a lawyer who represents many rural landowners in northeast Pasco. "These are a complicated set of issues you're trying to take on in one ordinance."
A key challenge is encouraging rural owners to participate while not discouraging urban developers from buying the credits.
For example, developers have historically added more homes to a project by applying for a rezoning request. Under the new program, the county would limit those rezoning requests to encourage developers to buy the credits on the open market.
"The key is, for people in these (urban) corridors, you wouldn't increase their density," said County Administrator John Gallagher.
Added South Carolina consultant Tyson Smith: "We're trying to create an incentive to avoid the rezoning process."
Though that would benefit his clients, Hobby predicted that move could spark a major backlash from developers with projects in the urban area.
On one hand, the county wants to encourage higher density in urban areas. But by rejecting the rezoning request, the county is forcing the developer to cut a large check for that higher density.
"It will be very interesting to see … who you decide to deny zoning to and who you will force to have to go buy the credits," said Emmett Evans, a member of a major Dade City citrus family.
There are other problems. Urban developers would get a "bonus" for meeting certain design guidelines that encourage walkable and mixed-use neighborhoods. They would earn three credits for each dwelling unit they buy from a rural landowner.
So, if a developer needs 150 extra units, he or she would only have to buy 50 units from rural owners.
"I think that's just backwards," said commissioner Ted Schrader, noting that would reduce demand for the credits. Without enough demand, he said, "it's going nowhere fast."
Growth management chief Richard Gehring said the program compliments broader development trends where more people want pedestrian-friendly communities with access to transit.
"We've been a more suburban, bedroom community," he said. "There's a long learning curve to get us to the vision that we're showing. Does it take 10 years? Does it take 20 years?"
Gehring said he considered the plan a "balanced approach" that will almost certainly have to be tweaked.