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Survey reveals three distinct faces of Pasco County

Her Holiday home has been burglarized twice in the last two years, so Karen Brown got a 6-foot-high fence and a security light system.

"You come in my yard," she said, "and the whole thing lights up."

Renters who come and go, worries over gang-related crimes, houses that aren't kept up: The Holiday neighborhood of Dodge City isn't the place she moved into 20 years ago.

"Oh, my neighborhood has changed," said Brown, a school district employee who was playing with her 2-year-old grandson at Robert K. Rees Memorial Park beach last week.

A recent county-funded survey of residents found that Brown is not alone among residents of west Pasco, the county's most densely populated area.

West side residents felt more vulnerable to crime and less satisfied with their quality of life than did their counterparts in central and east Pasco.

Only 36 percent of west Pasco residents, for instance, said they felt "very" or "somewhat" safe from violent crimes. Compare that to 65 percent of central and east Pasco residents.

Fifty-five percent of west Pasco residents ranked the overall quality of life in Pasco as "excellent" or "good." Compare that to 78 percent of central Pasco residents and 79 percent of east Pasco residents.

The geographic-based differences to many of the responses were striking, though not all that surprising to longtime residents. West Pasco is a diverse area, boasting upscale waterfront homes as well as the Trinity suburbs, but one of its central stories in recent years has been the changing face of the established neighborhoods of the U.S. 19 corridor.

Once the destinations for retirees with steady pensions, some of west Pasco's oldest neighborhoods, such as Holiday Lakes and Beacon Square, have become home to a younger, poorer and more transient population.

It's not just the neighborhoods that are changing. The U.S. 19 corridor and the area just east of it are marked by aging strip malls, a lack of high-quality commercial space and limited opportunities for new employment sites, the Urban Land Institute noted in its analysis of the county. The report identifies the U.S. 19 area as a place ripe for redevelopment efforts.

The results of the survey and the feedback from public sessions held this past spring are now incorporated in Pasco's proposed strategic plan for 2009-2012. That plan comes before commissioners on Tuesday.

Officials say they have long realized that governing Pasco can be like overseeing three different counties. One policy implication could be to set up special taxing districts distinct to one area of the county.

Comparing crime statistics among the three parts of the county is difficult, given the differences in population patterns. The bulk of the county population resides in west Pasco, but growth shifted toward central, rural Pasco in recent years.

Nonetheless, the survey shows the percentage of respondents who were crime victims in the last year is about the same from one part of the county to another. Around 18 percent of west Pasco residents said they'd been victimized recently, compared to 17 percent of central Pasco residents and 11 percent in east Pasco.

Chief Assistant County Administrator Michele Baker said the survey results may reveal less about actual crime statistics and more about the transiency of certain neighborhoods. In other words, do people feel as safe when they don't know their neighbors?

Karen Brown, the Holiday resident, can't name more than a handful of her immediate neighbors. She's thought about moving. But she can't sell her house and, besides, this is home.

"This is where we wanted to live," she said. "Another 20 years, the neighborhood will change again."

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

What county's residents said

The National Citizens Survey, a Colorado-based marketing firm, designed and conducted the first countywide residents' satisfaction survey as part of Pasco's strategic plan. Surveys were mailed to 1,200 households; nearly 370 households completed the survey. The sample sizes were 124 in the west side of the county, 122 in the central and 109 in the east. For each geographic area, the margin of error is plus or minus 9. Some of the responses:

Pasco County as a place to live: (Percentage who said "excellent" or "good")

West: 59 percent

Central: 83 percent

East: 82 percent

Your neighborhood as a place to live: (Percentage who said "excellent" or "good")

West: 65 percent

Central: 80 percent

East: 89 percent

How safe do you feel in your neighborhood after dark? (Percentage who said "very" or "somewhat")

West: 54 percent

Central: 84 percent

East: 90 percent

Pasco County as a place to raise children: (Percentage who said "excellent" or "good")

West: 44 percent

Central: 79 percent

East: 71 percent

Rate the overall quality of new development in Pasco: (percent who said "excellent" or "good")

West: 45 percent

Central: 69 percent

East: 60 percent

How likely are you to recommend living in Pasco County? ("Somewhat" or "very" likely?)

West: 71 percent

Central: 84 percent

East: 85 percent

The full results of the survey can be found on Pasco County's Web site, www.pascocountyfl.net

fast facts

The strategic plan

The proposed strategic plan for 2009-2012 touches on everything from future land use trends — doubling the prime acreage of industrial-zoned sites from 400 to 800 acres by 2015, for instance — to ensuring greater financial stability by increasing the non-residential portion of the tax base.

Once adopted, the plan is intended to be the cornerstone of future policy decisions. Commissioners will vote on whether to adopt the plan at its meeting Tuesday in Dade City.

Survey reveals three distinct faces of Pasco County 07/11/09 [Last modified: Saturday, July 11, 2009 1:34pm]

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