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Zoning aims to attract jobs

If there is a bad side to the county's residential boom, it is that business development is not keeping pace, say economic leaders in Pasco. Even as rooftops go up, residents still are going outside the county for jobs in Pinellas and Hillsborough.

The Pasco Economic Development Council wants to change that and thinks a new land use category in the county's comprehensive plan would help.

This month, EDC leaders are pitching a "business park" category to county staff. Such a designation would preserve land specifically for light industrial, office park or limited retail but no residential, Mary Jane Stanley, EDC executive director, said Wednesday.

"We have sites identified throughout the county that can be used for employment centers," she said.

But as the land categories stand today, "we don't have any land use designated now that is strictly a business district," said Debbie Bolduc, a senior planner with Pasco County. "This would be something totally new."

A mixed-use category now covers many of the county's larger retail, office or light industrial projects. But because of that "mixed use," the employment sites often are paired with residential components. One is not permitted without the other.

The proposal for a new designation still is young, county staff said.

"It's just been suggested," said Bolduc, who heard from the EDC about a week ago on the issue. "It's something the Citizens Advisory Committee will take a look at."

A comprehensive plan consultant and other county officials would have to look at the zoning proposal before it could move forward. Getting something on the books could be a couple of years away, Bolduc said. During that time, the name for such a designation could change, as could the parcels identified for job sites, cautioned Stanley.

"The bigger issue is the concept," she said. "We want to be able to have employment opportunities in our own back yard. Right now, we have 65,000 people commuting out of the county for jobs. What are we going to have in 10 years?"

In 2003 the county saw nearly 6,000 permits for new homes.

"We haven't brought in 6,000 new jobs," Stanley said, noting that the space to house future businesses could soon disappear.

_ Melia Bowie covers business in Pasco County. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6229, or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6229. Her e-mail address is bowiesptimes.com.

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