Pasco Commissioner Ted Schrader wants to be smart about growth management. Let's face it, smart growth is an overused cliche from both the slow-growth and bulldoze-and-build camps. But, Schrader, wisely, wants to add an extra level of scrutiny to upcoming amendments to the comprehensive growth management plan. He is seeking a rule change requiring a fourth-fifths vote, or so-called supermajority of the commission, before the plan can be altered.
Schrader offered this sound idea just for the amendments proposed for later this year, but its shelf life shouldn't be limited to 2009. Already Hillsborough, Hernando and Collier counties had the foresight to put such a rule on the books. Hernando adopted its ordinance in 2006. The others have had it in place since the early 1990s. Pasco should join them.
The land use document, known colloquially as the comp plan, is the long-term blueprint for how the county can grow. It specifies land that is available for residential, commercial and industrial development, rural preservation, so-called new-town concepts, employment centers and other growth management techniques. It can be amended twice annually and faces updates every seven years. Setting a higher standard for altering what essentially is the rule book for development makes sense.
Critics will argue, as planner King Helie did Tuesday, that a supermajority enables a minority of the commission — two ''no'' votes — to overrule the majority. But, this is no assault on democracy. It simply raises the comp plan to the same level of commission study that is accorded local option gasoline taxes and post-Amendment 1 property tax increases. Those issues, too, require a supermajority vote.
Schrader's push comes in part because the prospect of additional scrutiny anyway in the form of the looming Hometown Democracy initiative. If placed on the ballot and approved by 60 percent of the voters in 2010, it would allow future plan amendments to be voted up or down by public referendum.
There is other logic at work as well. The county still has not adopted the ordinances required to enforce the most recent rewrite of the comp plan. The county is working on 40 ordinances as well as a rewrite of its land development code as suggested last year by the Urban Land Institute consultants. Without those rules in place, the additional commission perusal is simply good governing. A memorandum this week to commissioners updating them on the proposed amendments includes a caveat that should help ratify Schrader's suggestion.
"An applicant for a future land use change is asking the board to change their (sic) vision for growth,'' reads a memorandum from Growth Management Administrator Sam Steffey. "The board and citizens spent five years and approximately $4 million developing this vision.''
Indeed. If an applicant isn't able to convince four county commissioners their vision needs improving, then maybe the vision isn't out of focus after all.