1. Opinion

Improved quality of life in west Pasco begins with redevelopment plan

A recent public opinion poll of Pasco residents reinforces the need for the county's continued push to try to redevelop its west side. The results of the National Citizens Survey, presented to commissioners last week, revealed nearly 60 percent of west Pasco's respondents do not believe the area is a good place to raise families.

Likewise, just 56 percent of west Pasco's respondents believe the county offers a good quality of life. In east and central Pasco, that number jumps to 80 percent.

Those residential perceptions mirror the economic outlook of each vicinity. While the Trinity area in west Pasco booms, downtown New Port Richey and the aging U.S. 19 corridor do not. The coastal retail core peaked two decades ago when space at Scenic Drive, just north of Gulfview Square mall, blossomed into bustling strip centers anchored by national department stores on both sides of U.S. 19. But the advent of even larger big-box stores equipped with full-service grocers made those 1990-vintage outlets obsolete, requiring one plaza to redevelop and another to sit with large-scale vacancies the past few years, though new tenants were just announced.

Meanwhile, central/east Pasco is home to the Shops at Wiregrass Ranch, a new hospital under construction, a planned community college campus, an expected high-end outlet mall at Interstate 75, and two financial businesses, T. Rowe Price and Raymond James, that plan moves to Pasco.

Simultaneous to the changing business outlook is the changing demographics. Much of west Pasco's housing stock appeared in the 1960s and '70s to lure northern retirees. A significant portion of those modest homes stock flipped initially to become starter homes for working class families and again as rentals to serve largely the same audience. It resulted in some neighborhood civic associations disbanding and divesting themselves of common property, leaving newer residents with fewer amenities and a sense that an area planned for an older population does not offer enough for younger people. A notable sign of the heavy retiree-presence of the past is the preponderance of services catering to seniors — west Pasco is home to four county library branches and three acute-care hospitals.

The need for revitalization hasn't escaped the county. It previously did a refurbishing of the east Brown Acres neighborhood and now is working on a much more ambitious plan to encourage commercial investment, employment centers and pedestrian-friendly developments, while simultaneously taking advantage of the natural attributes of the coastal preserves and the Pithlachascotee River.

That plan, nearly two years in the making, is expected to be finalized by the fall. Changing the face of west Pasco will be a long-term endeavor. But at least by presenting ideas on how to accomplish large-scale redevelopment, Pasco County might be able to start changing the public perception that west Pasco's quality of life is second-rate to its eastern neighbors.