Wildlife corridors map a pathway through Pasco

A network of conservation corridors to provide safer pathways for wildlife in Pasco County finally is more than just lines on a map.

Still, it took a few tweaks at a June 21 public hearing before Pasco County commissioners could approve an ordinance stuck in planning limbo for years.

In the end, the corridors made some happy, others less so.

“This ordinance is scientific, viably provable and defensible,” said Mac Davis of the Gulf Coast Conservancy. He addressed the commissioners during public comment at the hearing.

B.C. Manion/Staff Photo Keith Wiley is Pasco County’s natural resources manager. He guided efforts to craft an ordinance to create wildlife corridors. (B.C. Manion/Staff Photo)

B.C. Manion/Staff Photo
Keith Wiley is Pasco County’s natural resources manager. He guided efforts to craft an ordinance to create wildlife corridors.
(B.C. Manion/Staff Photo)

“It is imminently fair to everyone,” he said. “It is so long overdue. If it needs some tweaking later, we can address that…but, let’s get this show on the road.”

Attorney David Smolker generally praised the hard work of county staff in rewriting portions of the ordinance to meet objections of landowners. But, he said concerns remained about property rights and the cost to landowners.

“You’re going to run into problems on a case-by-case basis,” Smolker told commissioners.

About 2,500 acres of approximately 7,000 acres needed for the corridors runs through private land.

In Central Pasco, corridors will link current and proposed development projects at Starkey Ranch, Crossbar, Connerton and Cypress Creek.

A letter submitted by the Bexley family declared the ordinance an unconstitutional burden on property rights for those with corridors crossing their land. The Bexleys own a large spread at the southeast corner of Suncoast Parkway and State Road 52, which will become part of a master-planned community.

Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore said landowners who contacted him worried about public access onto and across properties. Owners with small parcels are especially worried about loss of privacy, he said.

“People would prefer not to have people walking through their backyards, whether they are observing birds or taking a walk, or whatever it is,” Moore said.

Pasco County commissioners approved the creation of seven wildlife corridors meant to give animals such as bears, turtles, otters, ospreys, frogs and fox squirrels safe pathways within the county. (Courtesy of Pasco County)

Pasco County commissioners approved the creation of seven wildlife corridors meant to give animals such as bears, turtles, otters, ospreys, frogs and fox squirrels safe pathways within the county.
(Courtesy of Pasco County)

Staff added a graph outlining a process for the property owner to participate in decisions about access and what passive types of recreation could be allowed.

“Not every piece would be appropriate for any passive amenity,” said Keith Wiley, the county’s natural resources manager. “Every situation would be different. But, (the ordinance) would at least give citizens that are concerned an opportunity to provide input to the process.”

There are seven corridors countywide mapped out as natural pathways for diverse wildlife including spotted turtles, gopher frogs, ospreys, fox squirrels, bears and river otters. County officials also say the corridors help preserve water resources and wetlands.

Nearly 16 years ago, a court settlement mandated that Pasco create the corridors, also known as “critical linkages.” Previous commissions tried and failed in that mission.

Janice Howie of the Nature Coast Florida Native Plant Society told commissioners time was running out as new development gobbles up open land. As an example, she said 20 or so bears in the northwestern corner of the county are hemmed in by houses and U.S. 19, unable to migrate to more natural habitats.

“We will probably not be in a position to form corridors if we wait another 16 years, because there won’t be enough land,” she said.

County staff initiated new discussions on the corridors in April 2015. Meetings were held throughout the county to gather input, and portions of the ordinance rewritten.

Among adjustments were a process to negotiate the corridor’s width; a chance to reroute the corridor without filing an expensive rezoning application; and splitting maintenance costs for corridors and easements between the county and landowner.

The ordinance would apply only if a landowner sought to rezone property for land uses of greater density or intensity, and had some portion of the corridor within the property’s boundaries. There are exemptions for existing development approvals.

The county can buy corridor property outright or acquire use of the land, but not ownership. Landowners would be compensated. When disagreements arise over issues such as sales price, location or boundaries of the corridors, landowners can appeal to the commissioners.

“We made the process very fair, very clear,” said Matt Armstrong, the county’s executive planner for the Long Range Planning Group. “Every little nut and bolt must function properly.”

Published June 29, 2016

Comments

  1. L. McGuire says

    I live in Wesley chapel and have lived here for several years. I do not normally see The Lutz News. Although I work in Tampa I give my money and support the local businesses. Recently, I drove through Pasco in dismay. I am appalled at the amount of destruction. Wesley chapel is also becoming a concrete mess. You build “connected city” without hearing the voice of residents who daily drive now against angry hostile drivers who daily break law after law – because you build and build unnecessarily and hold council meetings when people have to work. There is no one monitoring the drivers or holding them accountable for breaking laws, because obviously being negligent and having people wreck is more profitable. You say we need the housing because 1000s of people are coming. Really? So what else did you plan and promise to developers? These corridors were a court order. IT took you how many years to oblige? Why is the care on the tax payer? Why isn’t it put upon every developer that if they want to build the must put in hundreds of acres of corridors? Wouldn’t that have been easier? The voters passed a law saying they wanted land rescued from developers for future generations. You can drive down 54/56 and never tell when one community starts and when one starts. They all look alike. We lived in the country. We didn’t need a Walmart or Publix or CVS on every half-mile. It is normal to actually have to drive when you live in the country. Some voters moved to pas of to not live in concrete and the people that move to the country and complain – should live in a city.
    People are not going to walk to the stores and businesses because it is closer. No one is walking to the Walmart in Wesley Chapel- this kind of thinking only serves the developers and those in political offices that profit from development.
    Right now, Pasco is quickly becoming an ugly concrete jungle like Pinellas. It will look all new and nice for 10-15 years then you will leave us to clean up as the people move to what is newer and nicer somewhere else. We will be left with slums and broken strip malls. Every year in Pasco we have hundreds of turkeys migrate to Curley Road. I don’t see a corridor planned. So I am assuming you are planning on developing. Perhaps a gas station- we certainly need another one of those. The so called connected city is just another Temple Terrace – looks the same. It will sit on what was once a preserved area – until the zoning mysteriously changed. I am a very disappointed voter.

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