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Pasco urged to commit to growth areas with mass transit goal

SHADY HILLS — If Pasco County development were a sandwich filling, it would be peanut butter. Spreadable, but too much gums up the works.

That's how top planners described the sprawl that has historically been Pasco's pattern of growth. And they want to stop it.

"We need to stop the peanut butter," growth management administrator Richard Gehring told county commissioners at a workshop on Tuesday. "We need to grow inward and upward."

To that end, county planners are working to put in place recommendations from a nine-member panel of the Urban Land Institute, an association of real estate interests that interviewed 100 local public and private-sector representatives last year to help Pasco determine growth patterns for the next 20 years, with the ultimate goal of attracting high-wage jobs.

Among its recommendations: that Pasco create land development standards catering to the needs of five market areas, such as a central county region distinct from the southern corridor running across State Road 54.

Planners want to concentrate denser development in two of the five areas: the U.S. 19 corridor and the SR 54/56 corridor.

The goal is to make those areas attractive to mass transit such as express buses and light rail.

The master plan for the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority includes a rail line originating from the Shops at Wiregrass in Wesley Chapel to points south, with express buses on U.S. 19 and the SR 54 corridor. County Commissioner Michael Cox, who is chairman of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, is an advocate of adding rail to the 54 corridor.

Gehring told commissioners they need to be committed if they want mass transit, and that includes finding local funding sources.

Legislation now allows counties with charter government such as Hillsborough and Pinellas to seek voter approval for a 1-cent surtax for mass transit. Pasco, which is not a charter county, would need approval from the Legislature to do the same. The goal is to allow all counties under the TBARTA umbrella to have that ability. If approved, such a tax would not take effect until 2020, Gehring said.

A local tax also would make the area more likely to receive money from the federal government, which requires such a commitment before it's willing to dole out grants.

Members of Pasco's staff and its MPO will join their counterparts in Hillsborough to travel to Charlotte, N.C., on Friday for a daylong tour of its rail system, which is now about 2 years old.

"If Tampa and Hillsborough take steps and we want rail to be able to come up here, we need to take a step with them," Gehring said.

Lisa Buie can be reached at buie@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4604.

Pasco urged to commit to growth areas with mass transit goal 10/13/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 13, 2009 7:18pm]
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