Pasco officials really want developers to stop with the stereotypical suburban neighborhoods and build pedestrian-friendly communities where people live closer to work and can occasionally ditch the car.
How badly do they want it? For a major mixed-use community with homes, apartments, retail and office space, the county plans to grant a developer millions in subsidies.
"This is where we put our money where our mouth is," said David Goldstein, an assistant county attorney who drafted a new "mobility fee" intended to encourage favorable growth patterns.
In general, the county wants more intense growth along U.S. 19 and State Road 54 while discouraging development in rural areas. The county wants neighborhoods with trails and bike paths and homes built near future transit hubs. It wants to attract high-paying office and industrial jobs.
So, those kinds of developments will get deep discounts under the unique mobility fee proposal up for a final vote by county commissioners next month.
Consider two hypothetical neighborhoods:
• The first — let's call it Rocky Bluffs — has 700 single-family homes, 250 apartments, 100,000 square feet of retail space and half that amount of office space. It has a conventional suburban layout, maybe a gated community with an abundance of cul-de-sacs. It's in the suburban midsection of the county, where officials want moderate growth. The developer could expect to pay $8.2 million in fees to offset the neighborhood's impact on roads and other transportation projects.
• Leafy Greens, our name for the second neighborhood, has the same specs. But it's designed as a "traditional neighborhood development." Smaller lots and a variety of housing types. Common areas and neighborhood shops. An interconnected street grid that puts a town center within walking distance. And it's located along SR 54, which is planned as a dense, urban thoroughfare. Its transportation fees are $1.3 million.
Nearly two-thirds of that $6.9 million difference is an incentive fueled by future property taxes. Rocky Bluffs will pay more partly because it has a bigger impact on roads. On average, people there will take more frequent and longer car trips. People there also pay to have less congestion than in urban areas. Leafy Greens residents will likely live near where they work and can leave their car in the garage more often.
The county wants more Leafy Greens.
"The goal of these lower fees is to try to focus growth in the town centers," Goldstein said.
Dade City and Zephyrhills are seriously considering joining the county's plan because most development there would qualify for the lower fees.
Don't expect traditional neighborhoods like Leafy Greens to take off immediately. In the face of an epic housing slump, major national developers scaled back and focused on their core business. So far, traditional neighborhoods have only succeeded as a niche market. They cost more. Big builders are wary.
But millions of dollars in incentives might change some minds, at least in the long run.
"The county's incentives are getting close enough to start people scratching their heads," said Trey Starkey, whose family owns the 2,500-acre Starkey Ranch near Trinity and helped develop the nearby Longleaf community. He said some of those savings wouldn't go to a developer's bottom line but would help make homes cheaper and pay for pricey extras like alleys and recessed garages.
But he added: "Smart growth initiatives is stuff that takes years, if not decades. This is not just something that happens overnight."
Besides the big discounts on traditional neighborhood plans, the plan eliminates fees for development near future transit centers. Fees are also entirely dropped for hotels, office space and industrial parks.
"The biggest drops are where we want the growth to go," said Commissioner Jack Mariano.
Even so, the mobility fee is still in the early stages. It's unclear how successful it will be in helping Pasco shed its reliance on sprawling bedroom communities.
"You all are in a position to lead the state in a new concept here," Connerton developer Stew Gibbons told commissioners at a meeting last week. "That's a big step. There are a lot of unknowns when you start something entirely new."
Lee Logan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.