Pasco commissioners should resist the temptation to start altering their long-term development map before the ink is even dry. Just three months after approving new financing for the future transportation network, commissioners are considering a pitch from a pair of landowners who want to develop property without having to kick in additional dollars for road or mass transit costs.
Though a final answer isn't expected until January, the request means commissioners must confront an imperative question: Is vacant land a candidate for urban development simply because it is near a highway interchange or because it has utilities and a road available? Or, for the time being, should urbanization be contained in the corridors providing mass transit?
The commission's answer will shape the county's long-term development patterns and determine if the county's new way to pay for transportation is destined to be a bust before it even begins.
At issue is the mobility fee adopted by the commission in July that waives or reduces up-front transportation costs for developing offices, industrial space and more intensive residential use in the county's southern tier that is earmarked for mass transit. Other landowners, however, now want to be a part of the so-called urban service areas. The sites in question are the area around the State Road 52 and Suncoast Parkway interchange and a proposed town center area of the Watergrass development in northern Wesley Chapel.
Two commissioners, Ted Schrader and Pat Mulieri, signaled their intent to grant the requests even though they had not been briefed on the long-term affects on the county's road system.
Their own Growth Management Administrator Richard Gehring likes to compare Pasco's past growth with peanut butter — just too spreadable. Now, the county's market areas, urban service boundaries and mobility fees are intended to curb that and push growth inward and upward while simultaneously stimulating job creation via employment centers. Five days ago, however, the sandwich analogy returned.
"Peanut butter likes to be spread,'' Gehring told commissioners, "and we're here today with a lot of people with knives.''
Forget the peanut butter. Here's the meat and potatoes:
Granting the requests could open the door for other property owners to ask for the same consideration. It will diminish the incentives to guide growth into the transit corridors and simply reintroduce sprawl as an acceptable development pattern in Pasco. It will mean fewer dollars for future transportation, require the county to push back even more road projects and increase highway congestion in areas not expected to be served by mass transit.
Worse, it will show commissioners are too weak to enforce their own growth and transit plans they just spent two years devising.