A Pasco Commission majority was right to withstand the bullying from development interests who want to make it easier to build new subdivisions in rural outposts. The county, instead, is seeking to drive new growth to urbanized southern and western Pasco, planned mass transit corridors. To do so, the county's new transportation costs — called mobility fees — are less expensive in those areas.
Tuesday marked the second time the private sector objected to the fees just months after universally hailing them as a way to reduce the cost of home-building, discourage sprawl and boost employment opportunities.
First, some landowners in Shady Hills and northern Wesley Chapel asked to be included in the urban service areas — effectively driving down their future transportation fees. Those decisions are pending.
Now, some rural property owners are threatening a lawsuit because of the quality of the road network associated with developing their land. It is a familiar tactic. Promises of litigation are all too common whenever county government tries to better control growth. In the late 1980s, developers objected to new impact fees for utilities, saying the new costs would kill their business. Ditto in 2000 when commissioners started making new home-buyers contribute fees for school construction.
The current brouhaha is over the letter grade assigned to roads in northeast Pasco based on complicated state formula measuring number of vehicles, travel times and how long drivers are unable to pass a slower motorist. The county staff recommended, and a commission majority agreed, the rural roads should be considered grade C — essentially being able to carry a steady flow of traffic at the posted speed limit, though passing might be problematic nearly two-thirds of the time. Some property owners pushed for a D — more vehicles which increases the likelihood a driver will get stuck behind a slow-moving truck for as much as 80 percent of their trip.
Northeast Pasco carries previously approved rural protections to limit growth, so the requirement for a higher level of road service could dim large-scale housing developments in that region altogether if the roads couldn't handle added traffic.
Attorney Clarke Hobby contends the assigned road grade will do just that even though northeast Pasco had been targeted for up to 2,400 homes in so-called conservation subdivisions intended to help protect the agricultural rural characteristics of the region.
While the attorney must look out for the best interests of his clients, commissioners must look out for the best interests of the county as a whole. The board was unanimous in authorizing the mobility fees as an aggressive way to change the way Pasco grows. This week, Commissioners Pat Mulieri, Jack Mariano and Henry Wilson were wise not to fiddle with the formula.
Commissioners can't make a habit of retreating every time someone wants to maximize private-sector profits.