Panel okays rural protections for northeast Pasco

Published June 16, 2016

DADE CITY — Some residents of northeastern Pasco County have strong sentiments about maintaining rural qualities in a county poised for rapid suburban growth.

"We want to protect our little bit of heaven,'' said Nancy Hazelwood, who lives on a rural road known as A Nice Place. "We have Pasco County's best interest at heart.''

"Development will come,'' said Judy Geiger of Lacoochee, "but let's be smart and plan for it.''

The county's Development Review Committee agreed. It approved a rural protection ordinance last week that Hazelwood, Geiger and a core group of about nine others have been pushing for a decade. The proposal is scheduled to be considered by county commissioners next month.

The rules would govern residential development along scenic roads that wind among the 66,000 acres and 15,000 people in the northeast quadrant of the county, bordered by Bellamy Brothers Boulevard on the west, the Green Swamp on the east, State Road 52 on the south and the Hernando County line on the north.

The rules — amendments to the county's land development code — would not apply to commercial businesses, and would exclude a quarter-mile on each side of U.S. 301, a corridor intended for employment centers and commercial development.

Specifically, the rules aim to protect topography, and set landscape requirements and lighting standards on residential developments of at least three houses. Architectural design standards are suggested, but not mandated.

The intent is to protect hilltops and view vistas, via an overlay district, in an area that is home to the county's highest elevations.

"This makes sure the hilltops are not chopped up or mined and used for fill,'' said Justyna Buszewski of the county's planning staff.

The county christened the vicinity as its "northeast rural area" a decade ago and embedded into its comprehensive land-use plan the goals of protecting and preserving the existing rural and agricultural characteristics. The idea was for future homes to be built on multi-acre lots or for parcels to be developed as conservation neighborhoods, with home sites clustered but surrounded by wide-open greenery. Most of the ordinances enforcing the land use plan's goals, however, have never been adopted.

Ten years later, it remains controversial, particularly among some owners of large parcels of land who see their property rights and future development potential being limited.

"Passing the overlay district will keep quality growth away from Dade City,'' suggested Mignon Jordan Edwards.

John Walsh, of the Pasco Economic Development Council, was the only county review committee member to vote against the overlay district. He said the plans should be optional and the county should offer incentives to encourage landowners to follow the rules.

Hazlewood and others see it differently.

"We're just trying to keep Wesley Chapel from happening in northeast Pasco,'' she said.