Pasco County Commission's urban designation decision spoils smart growth plan

Published Feb. 22, 2012

Pasco Commissioner Pat Mulieri thinks Shady Hills is primed for urban sprawl. Tuesday, she led a three-person commission majority that voted to expand the county's urban market northward to include 5,400 acres around the intersection of State Road 52 and the Suncoast Parkway. The maneuver gives a financial break to property owners and future developers within the zone, allowing them to escape more expensive mobility fees tied to suburban areas.

It's an ill-advised giveaway that undermines the commission's strategy to guide more intensive growth into the county's southern and western corridors. It also shows a commission majority too weak to say "no'' to property owners who believe they suddenly are unable to compete with Hernando County's development opportunities. It's a disingenuous argument. The county already cut its transportation fees by nearly 75 percent for industrial and office developments in this area.

By ignoring the recommendation from the county's professional planning staff, Mulieri asserted a will to instill her own cloudy vision on future land development in the area close to her Gowers Corner home. She talked up the potential for future employment. Unfortunately, just as likely of an outcome is the development of 1,200 acres of new homes getting an $11 million discount on transportation improvements to serve the vicinity.

Essentially, Mulieri, along with Commissioners Ted Schrader and Ann Hildebrand, said the area north of State Road 52 deserves the same consideration for high-density transit-oriented development, office parks and other employment centers that the county envisions for the State Road 54 corridor stretching along Pasco's southern tier. It's misguided logic that simply encourages residential sprawl.

During the debate, Schrader talked of the USAA Insurance complex being built in a remote locale near Interstate 75 and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard south of Pasco and said he could see the same development pattern repeating in this county along the Suncoast Parkway. That rationalization, however, fails to recognize the seven-story insurance tower opened in 1993, long after the residential and retail components of Hunter's Green, Tampa Palms, Pebble Creek and other neighborhoods flooded New Tampa with congestion.

Commissioners can talk all they want about a foundation for smart growth, focused planning and directing development to specific geographic regions. But Mulieri, Schrader and Hildebrand just diminished the incentives to guide growth into the transit corridors and reintroduced sprawl as an acceptable development pattern in Pasco. By the area's build out date, there will be $22 million less for future transportation, meaning more delayed road projects and increased highway congestion in areas not served by mass transit.

Smart growth? Hardly.