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Adequate impact fees can help home-building industry

A group of east Pasco landowners are abandoning the long-held (but inaccurate) public argument that impact fees are detrimental to the home-building industry. Instead, the people behind the Villages of Pasadena Hills, a 20,000-acre mostly rural enclave between Zephyrhills and Wesley Chapel and south of St. Leo/San Antonio, want Pasco County to require higher fees on single family homes to pay for roads and schools in their area. It is a welcome recognition that doing the minimum is not conducive to maximizing the potential for a greater quality of life.

The strategy was unveiled this week by the consultants devising the financing plan for Pasadena Hills, a proposed 50-year planning area supported by some 20 property owners there. Though individual developers must come forward with their own residential and commercial plans, the Villages of Pasadena Hills is envisioned as a dozen high-density developments or villages connected via a grid system of parallel roads amid parks, schools and other public spaces. Its self-contained urban centers are supposed to provide a place for people to live, work and shop. At build-out, it will be larger than Wesley Chapel.

Paying for the infrastructure has been key and the proposal, which still must be adopted by commissioners in January and written into geographic-specific ordinances afterward, calls for 27 percent surcharges on county impact fees assessed on new homes to help pay for $630-million worth of roads and to acquire land for 10 schools and 260 acres of parks.

Notably, the surcharges aren't for transportation improvements exclusively within the project. More than $100-million is set aside to pay for the demands on state and local highways outside the study area.

Additionally, the land owners are proposing a taxing district in which a portion of future county tax collections attributable to higher property values are returned to Pasadena Hills for infrastructure. Such tax-increment financing is customary for redeveloping cities, but has not been used in unincorporated areas of the county.

Commissioners acknowledged the unusual planning and ambitious nature of the proposal, but welcomed it as better way to guide growth than past efforts elsewhere.

The county's long-range plan had allowed as many as 28,000 homes on 5- and 10-acre lots on the land making it cost prohibitive to provide water and utility service and requiring residents to make a 10-mile trek to the nearest commercial outpost. It defined sprawl.

The Villages of Pasadena Hills is the alternative to that and to the customary piecemeal development around the county — former farmland rezoned into three homes per acre with each development considered on its own merits. It brings cookie-cutter housing on projects just small enough to escape regional planning requirements from developers seeking to dodge higher infrastructure standards.

The coordinated planning and financing tools should help provide Pasadena Hills a sense of place, as Commissioner Ann Hildebrand put it. It will encourage a higher quality of life with easier mobility to work, to schools and to soccer and Little League games.

Hopefully, it also will end, once and for all, the sentiment that impact fees discourage home building. Over the summer, Commissioner Michael Cox wondered if Pasco should consider lowering the fees to help stimulate the construction industry. Hernando County commissioners actually put the idea to a vote, but rejected it.

The county currently charges more than $20,000 per single-family home for roads, schools, parks, libraries and public safety. The fees — one-time surcharges on new construction — are passed through to buyers and are intended to help pay for the infrastructure demands from growth. Just last year a county-retained economic consultant said Pasco's housing market could withstand higher road fees because a better infrastructure stimulates new-home buying.

The people proposing the Villages of Pasadena Hills obviously agree.

Adequate impact fees can help home-building industry 12/20/08 [Last modified: Friday, December 26, 2008 10:24am]
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