Hernando County is a housing construction junkie begging for one more fix — right on the doorstep of a pretty decent rehab house.
Yes, Pasco County, that longtime symbol of chaotic development, came up with a model of thoughtful planning this summer — its new system of transportation impact fees. These fees don't just raise road-building money, as such fees always do. They also encourage dense, efficient growth, public transit and job creation.
Here's how it works. You want to build a house in a pasture in northeastern Pasco, out where you have to drive a dozen miles to pick up a quart of milk? You'll pay for it, with a hefty "mobility fee" of $9,800 for a medium-size home. As you should. Think how many miles of road are needed to serve your one car.
But build near the county's main commercial corridors, along U.S. 19 or state roads 54 and 56, and you'll probably be able to pick up that jug of milk at the end of your street. You might even be able to walk. So your mobility fee for that same-size house is a lot lower, about $5,800.
The deals get even better if you build near a future light rail or express bus stop. In fact, your mobility fee is zero. The idea being that if Pasco can reform larger patterns of development and, as a result, the way people move around the region, the savings could be huge.
Zero is also the mobility fee charged to builders of offices and factories in the county's urban corridors. More local jobs mean fewer long commutes and, once again, vast potential savings in road-building costs.
So along with all of the other good stuff these fees can accomplish, they should help Pasco diversify its economy, which has historically been almost as hooked on housing as Hernando.
Speaking of which: What action has the farsighted, statesmanlike Hernando County Commission taken on this same issue? On Tuesday, it informally agreed to drastically cut impact fees for the second time in two years, so the builder of a new home will contribute only $1,237 for new roads.
Never mind that, with housing starts down, the previous cut proved this strategy doesn't work. And if it does, it will just add to the housing glut and, probably, dump road improvements needed for new construction on people already living in Hernando.
Why "probably"? Because there's absolutely no data supporting the new rates, but seeing as they're the same as the 1999 rates, it's a pretty safe bet they won't fully cover the transportation needs of new buildings.
To be fair, there probably won't be a lot of these buildings going up in the one year these lower fees will be in place, which means there won't be a big cost to the county. And most Hernando commissioners said that even if it's now too late to create an ambitious, graduated fee system by their deadline, Dec. 1, they're interested in exploring this idea in the future.
Okay, but they need more than a vague desire to explore. They need to get behind this, big time. And they need to do it now, before the housing market heats up again, or even starts to simmer.
I won't say county planners are under-occupied right now; their boss, land services director Ron Pianta, wouldn't like that. But I might gently point out that there aren't a whole lot of plans for massive subdivisions to be reviewed. I believe planners in Hernando, as in Pasco, have the time to do most of this work in house, though they'll need the help of a consultant if any new fee system is going to stand up in court. Plus, remember, there is almost no state control of land-use planning anymore. It will all be on us when the nail guns start firing again, and a smart system of impact fees would help.
Why do I worry this won't happen? Because, it takes political guts to draw lines when owners on one side will have to pay more than those on the other. That's even more true because, unlike Pasco, Hernando has lowered transportation impact fees so much that any reasonable assessment will look like a massive increase.
Finally, Hernando commissioners are expected to formally approve the new super-deep fee cut on Nov. 15. If they had guts, they wouldn't even be considering it.