Often when someone proposes a new project in Pasco County, officials get an earful about how those nearby don’t want more development, more traffic and the loss of wildlife, trees and peace that drew them to the county in the first place.
Those same sorts of responses also turned up as the county asked citizens over the last several months how they wanted to see Pasco grow in the future. The exercise was part of the county’s effort to update its current comprehensive plan through 2050.
Top survey priorities for Pasco’s future included keeping the county’s rural character and history, protecting natural resources and maintaining rather than expanding existing infrastructure. They also wanted expansion of parks and more walkable and vibrant places.
The Pasco County Planning Commission, which got its briefing on the survey results last week, grappled with those findings.
“What is surprising is that what it appears the public wants is not what we’re here doing every day,” said Planning Commissioner Jon Moody. Planning commissioners, most of whom are in the development business, are appointed by the County Commission to review and make recommendations on land-use changes.
Moody said the focus on preserving and keeping rural character, cultural sites and green space is interesting since the public “can’t buy 40-foot-wide lots fast enough and we can’t build them fast enough to supply their need for them.”
While he said he also wished the county could be like it was when he grew up there, “it isn’t anymore.”
Moody said he even sees similar concerns raised on social media, including on one local Facebook page that posts new large development plans and which has grown to more than 18,000 followers in recent weeks.
Some of those posts are “a little bit hostile,” but, Moody said, democracy works when people participate in their government and have their voices heard. In recent months, he has encouraged that from civic leaders in Shady Hills who have educated themselves on land-use changes in their area and spoken regularly to county leaders about their concerns.
David Goldstein, chief assistant county attorney, told the survey team that a helpful question to citizens might have been what projects to protect in the county that they were willing to pay for. Just days before the planning commission meeting, citizens blasted the Pasco County Commission for raising taxes at a budget hearing. Those residents didn’t want to pay more for government services.
“Santa’s wish list could be 20 pages long, but there are only a certain number of things that Santa can afford,” Goldstein said.
Planning Commission chairperson Charles Grey said that people don’t usually understand how services are paid for. “Most people can’t get it through their head that those taxpayer dollars aren’t coming from government, they’re coming from the people,” he said. “The government has no money. The people provide the money for government.”
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During the citizen workshops, several residents said they thought the county’s sales tax, known as Penny for Pasco, was paying for all the priorities they had picked, said county planner Hayat Mazili.
“That’s just flat-out wrong,” Goldstein said. As for the survey process, he told planners that they need to include the financial question in the next round. “In my opinion, this is just a Santa’s wish list. ... Until we know you’re going to put your money where your mouth is, it’s meaningless to me.”
Grey, who opposes cutting down all trees on new developments, did say that the county also has to hold new development to a standard. “I think in many cases, we aren’t as hard on developers as we should be.”
Goldstein said the county has to be careful because if the state believes the county has gone too far, then state lawmakers can just take away their ability to regulate those issues.
“It’s a fine line,” Grey said.
Planners will make a presentation on their progress on the 2050 growth plan to the County Commission next month.