It will not be Extreme Makeover Trilby/Lacoochee edition, but a just-adopted strategy to improve the twin hamlets in northeast Pasco provides a blueprint for what most likely will be methodical progress in the county's poorest region.
Any advancements are welcome after five years of talking, with few tangible results. The plan's diverse goals include better transit, pedestrian paths, improved code enforcement, work force training, crime prevention, an expanded Stanley Park and a community center.
Pasco County's ultimate aim and the key to the area's long-term success, however, is luring an employment center to Lacoochee, an area of 1,300 residents where half the adults lack a high school education and where the median income is 55 percent lower than the countywide average.
The focus is the commercial potential of the onetime Cummer and Sons Cypress Co. sawmill, which brought nearly four decades of prosperity before the mill's closing in 1959. It remains an industrial site with highly desirable rail access. The 135-acre property is now owned by Columbia Grain, which uses only a portion of the site; the rest of the land is available for industrial use. But, its location amid rut-filled dirt roads, aging utility infrastructure, shuttered buildings and housing in disrepair makes economic development a tough sell.
The sales job is about to start. Using a community redevelopment plan compiled with significant citizen input and approved this month by Pasco commissioners, the pitch will be for federal and/or state aid and private sector investing.
County contributions, at least at the outset, will be minimal considering Pasco can't even afford to keep a full-time attendant at Stanley Park in Lacoochee. It does envision forming a Community Redevelopment Agency to funnel increased tax revenue from higher property values back into the area. It would be the first CRA in unincorporated Pasco, though private landowners in the Pasadena Hills area plan to do likewise to finance a road network there.
A key difference between a county CRA and those in four of Pasco's cities is the amount of money generated. Cities benefit from the additional growth of county tax dollars returned to the municipalities each December. Essentially, those CRAs get money from two sources: Pasco County and the revenue attributed to the city's millage. Before the recent drop in property values, New Port Richey's citywide CRA received as much as $2.4 million a year in so-called tax increment financing from Pasco County.
Money for redeveloping unincorporated Lacoochee and Trilby will accumulate at a significantly slower pace since no municipal tax levy is involved. It most likely means aggressive redevelopment plans — such as borrowing against future revenue to do large-scale projects immediately as New Port Richey did — will not be part of the equation.
The plan is a solid start, but it is just that — a start. Patience will be required as the county moves forward in this long redevelopment process designed to better the quality of life in an area that needs it desperately.