Pasco commissioners took an important initial step this week toward a far-reaching redevelopment of the county's west side when they agreed to use federal aid to improve aging residential neighborhoods.
The Community Development Block Grants, or CDBG, are distributed to local governments based on population and income levels. Historically, Pasco has used this money for capital costs for both government and nonprofit properties serving low and moderate-income residents. In the current year, the money paid for upgrades to Moon Lake Park, Sunrise of Pasco Inc.'s domestic violence center and Connections job development center.
Under the new five-year strategy, up to $600,000 a year will be funneled into bettering the streets, sidewalks, drainage and other physical needs of depressed neighborhoods in an area stretching between Moog Road in Holiday and Massachusetts Avenue in New Port Richey and from Rowan Road to U.S. 19.
Tapping the charity construction dollars is an unfortunate, but necessary tradeoff as the county tries to rehabilitate the housing stock in an aging urbanized area that has been dubbed the River District in the county's west Pasco redevelopment plan. Money already has been set aside for the actual housing improvements, courtesy of the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program, but the county lacked financing to fix the infrastructure shortcomings in neighborhoods largely built in the 1960s and '70s.
The first area to be improved, likely a six- to eight-block area, will be designated in June with neighborhood meetings to follow. It is a welcome start to what is expected to be a decades-long effort to try to transform west Pasco from decaying urban sprawl to new urbanism with jobs, homes, commerce and recreation all in close proximity.
The available money won't fix every neighborhood, but these investments are vital. Despite its well-documents shortcomings, west Pasco remains home to roughly 200,000 residents and provides a third of the real estate tax base to the county. Allowing further decline will simply tax the law enforcement, social services and education network serving the community.
It's also prudent politically. A year ago, Pasco County government commissioned a National Citizens Survey to poll residents on quality of life, government budget and public service issues. It found nearly 60 percent of west Pasco's respondents did not believe the area is a good place to raise families. Likewise, just 56 percent of west Pasco respondents said the county offered a good quality of life. In east and central Pasco, that number jumped to 80 percent.
Turning a blind eye to citizen concerns in the heaviest populated area of the county would be unacceptable. Pasco County government is wise to try to redevelop its west-side sprawl into a more sustainable, functioning core. Targeting neighborhood blight is good place to start.