Pasco Sheriff asks for seat on the county’s planning commission

County commissioners welcome sheriffs office input, but reject inclusion as a planning commission member
Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco.
Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco.
Published Jan. 14, 2021

DADE CITY — A fast-growing community brings potential law enforcement concerns. With that in mind, Sheriff Chris Nocco asked the County Commission for a formal seat on the Pasco County Planning Commission, where new projects get a first public review.

County Commissioner Mike Moore pitched that idea this week, but a divided commission voted no.

While commissioners agreed that law enforcement input was welcome as the county reviews new housing and other developments, they didn’t see that the formal planning commission hearing process was the right place for that to happen. Only Commissioner Christina Fitzpatrick sided with Moore when the vote took place.

The county’s planning commission conducts public hearings on a variety of land use requests. They make recommendations to the county commission on various issues, ranging from changes in the county’s comprehensive plan for growth to rezonings. They also hear other applications, including special use permits.

Nocco’s hope for a representative on the planning board has “come up quite a few times in conversations I’ve had with him recently,” Moore said. “It would definitely be an asset with the growth in the county that we’ve had when it comes to public safety and traffic concerns.”

“It just seems kind of odd to me,” said Commissioner Kathryn Starkey, who asked if any other counties had a sheriff’s representative on their planning board or if anyone at the Sheriff’s Office had any expertise in planning.

Moore said he believed that Nocco had someone in mind for the job.

New developments can always raise issues, including crime prevention features, security cameras, guard houses and traffic issues, explained Chase Daniels, the sheriff’s executive director. For those reasons, Daniels told the commission, Nocco “would appreciate to have eyes on it and make recommendations.”

“I don’t think those things are done at the planning commission,” Starkey said. She recalled that the Sheriff was concerned about a community where drivers would cut through, causing traffic issues. But Starkey didn’t see that being in the formal job of a planning commission member.

As far as offering input in the process, Starkey said, “I’m happy to have a safety voice. That would be great to have, actually.”

Commissioner Jack Mariano also had no problem with input but was not in favor of a formal place on the planning commission for a sheriff’s representative.

“I guess I don’t understand the apprehension,” Moore said, noting any project that ends up getting approval by the county could have impact on law enforcement activities and therefore impact on the county commission and its budget for law enforcement.

“The sheriff as a separate entity I think should have additional input and be able to participate in these discussions,” Moore said.

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Starkey said she agreed, but that the planning commission venue was not the right place.

Fitzpatrick said she could see the benefit of the Sheriffs Office on that board.

The county’s planning and development director, Nectorios Pittos, had another perspective. If the issues are community design and safety aspects, then “catching a project at the very earliest would be most helpful,” he said.

By the time the planning commission conducts its hearing, the life of the project might already have been seven or eight months, Pittos said. But at the pre-application meeting, various county departments give input on potential issues allowing an applicant to resolve or address concerns before even submitting formal paperwork for their project.

Pittos added that the planning commission doesn’t even address other site-related reviews which are also heard earlier in the process.

“I think you’re spot on that you need to engage them much earlier,” Starkey said.

After the motion failed on the planning commission inclusion request, Moore asked for and received unanimous commissioner support to make sure that the right person at the Pasco County Sheriffs Office would be included on notices about upcoming early project reviews.

After the discussion, Nocco told the Times that he appreciated Moore raising the issues and that direct input had been a hope of his for some time.

“We are also grateful that the commission was unanimous in their agreement that the Sheriff’s Office has an important role to play in considering public safety in any development, commercial or residential, approved by the county,” he said.