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Bridling growth before it's too late

Hoping to send a message to hungry developers, city leaders on Tuesday night agreed to establish policies governing new development.

The message: Less is more.

In addition to allowing no home lots smaller than 50 feet wide, Mayor Hutch Brock said he favors requiring that at least half the lots in a new development be substantially larger than 50 feet, in keeping with the pattern of existing homes in Dade City.

It's just one of many issues facing a city experiencing a flurry of growth after years of stagnation.

During an earlier workshop, city planner Karla Owens said projects that already have been approved could swell the population of the city from about 7,000 to more than 10,000 by 2010. And with more developers knocking every month, she said issues such as home lot size and density are becoming urgent.

"Let's address it now," she said. "You can control density."

Three proposed developments already are raising flags. Developers are requesting the maximum allowed density - in one case more than seven homes per acre - in areas among large, rural home sites.

"You need to look at what surrounds it," Owens said.

A quirky provision in the city's comprehensive plan allows a developer to transfer the density allowed on one piece of property to another piece for environmental reasons. That means a parcel covered by wetlands, which cannot be developed, could have its density pushed next door, allowing double the density on the adjacent property.

But that provision, among others, appears headed for change.

Owens and other city staffers will formulate policies about density, home lot size and other issues including stormwater retention, architectural guidelines and parking. The commission will consider and vote on them.

In other news Tuesday, commissioners also finalized an ordinance creating a citizen planning board to review rezonings and annexations and make recommendations to the commission. Until now, the commission also has served as the planning board, essentially making recommendations to itself.

The new board will have seven members: five appointed by individual commissioners and two at-large. Members must live or own property in the city.

Commissioners also finalized a transfer of code enforcement violations from a city board. Such cases will now be prosecuted in county court.