Buoyed by the success of a federally funded redevelopment of the Tommytown area outside Dade City, Pasco County is correctly turning its attention to the twin hamlets of Lacoochee and Trilby in the county's rural northeast region.
The goal goes beyond refurbished residential neighborhoods. The aim is to lure an employment center to Lacoochee, a poverty-stricken 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 gem of the area 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 a highly desirable characteristic — rail access.
The 135-acre property is now owned by Columbia Grain, which uses only a portion of the site to turn corn into chicken feed. 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.
"It's not very appealing and not very marketable,'' said Commissioner Ted Schrader. He asked commissioners Tuesday to approve a study to devise appropriate land-uses and a redevelopment strategy for the area as part of upcoming changes to the county's comprehensive land-use plan. His suggestion drew a unanimous endorsement from the rest of the commission.
Private sector involvement is appreciated and already under way with the Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative promising to replace electrical service equipment. That helped build the enthusiasm on the commission dais.
It must be noted that this is simply a start and attention-starved residents must remain patient. The Tommytown redevelopment, for instance, remains ongoing 10 years after its initial approval. But in Lacoochee, the government interest — even a study capped at $50,000 — is welcome considering the stalled progress of the goodwill that blossomed after the 2003 fatal shooting of Sheriff's Lt. Charles "Bo'' Harrison.
Community soul-searching followed Harrison's death and resulted in a push for redevelopment, greater law enforcement, and some bricks and mortar — notably, a community center — to serve the people here. Change, however, has been minimal. Few of the expected housing or job opportunities materialized and a malaise replaced the early eagerness.
That changed Tuesday amid school, county and community advocates continuing to press for improvements. The study is a significant first step in what is expected to be a long redevelopment process, but it should help rekindle the desire to make Lacoochee and its neighbor across U.S. 301, Trilby, better places to live.