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Pasco planning board wants more public safety input before development votes

Officials wonder why the sheriff and fire officials aren’t weighing in on development plans.
Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco has said he wants more input in Pasco development but county officials want to know why that hasn't happened and why fire rescue personnel are also not commenting on development proposals.
Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco has said he wants more input in Pasco development but county officials want to know why that hasn't happened and why fire rescue personnel are also not commenting on development proposals.
Published Jan. 20

As Pasco officials continue to give their stamp of approval on new housing and other development, existing residents step up regularly to voice concerns about the effect of so much new construction.

But recently the county boards that consider new development proposals have noticed important voices missing: the Pasco County Sheriffs Office and Pasco Fire Rescue.

This week, the Planning Commission voted to ask those public safety agencies to come to a future meeting and explain why they are not offering their input.

The silence is especially vexing because not long ago, Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco made a pitch to the county commissioners that they should appoint someone from his office to sit on the Planning Commission, someone with law enforcement training to provide a perspective on the effects that new subdivisions and other development have on public safety.

Every new development they approve is another new city he would have to police, Nocco told them.

Not long after that, the county’s firefighters union began showing up in droves for public comment at meetings, urging commissioners to speed up development of new fire stations and beef up of manpower and equipment purchases to protect the new residents.

The lack of official public safety input came up again this week during discussion about a townhouse project in Dade City.

After learning that neither public safety agency commented, commissioners voted to ask representatives to come before them at a future meeting to explain how they review such proposals and why they have had nothing to say.

David Goldstein, the chief assistant county attorney who advises planning commissioners, said that in the past “applicants have been put in limbo for months and months” waiting for internal comments.

Planning Commissioner Peter Hanzel said that, while he didn’t want to see the process slow down, “I think it is unfair to the public as a whole that these two departments that are extremely critical to safety of any county do not respond other than in a negative fashion.”

Goldstein said he wasn’t sure if there were dedicated employees of the sheriff or fire rescue staff whose job it is to do such reviews. But he did remember that Nocco had sought the seat on the planning commission so that his team could have direct input, so he figured the sheriff knew there was value to that.

He said that there is already a perfect example of how coordination works with Chris Williams, who sits on the Planning Commission but represents the Pasco County School District. He reviews applications to be able to quantify the expected impact on area schools before a development can be recommended for approval or denial.

At early stages of even major community development plans, Goldstein said he hasn’t seen much discussion about where to place new sheriff substations or new fire stations, even though new housing and businesses affect emergency response.

County Development Review Manager Brad Tippin said that the fire department especially tends to react more “when things come on the ground” rather than during early planning.

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Planning Commissioner Derek Pontlitz said that might have been sufficient when Pasco’s growth rate was slower but not now. “It takes time to purchase assets and hire staff,” he said. “The earlier in the planning process that this gets addressed in some substance, the better.”