The Pasco County Planning Commission — which makes recommendations related to the county’s growth — wants public safety agencies to provide more meaningful comment on proposed zoning and land use changes.
The planning board voted at its Jan. 19 meeting to ask for a discussion with representatives from the Pasco Sheriff’s Office and Pasco County Fire/Rescue.
That request arose from the planning board’s consideration of a proposed land use change that would allow up to 158 townhomes on two parcels on Clinton Avenue, a quarter-mile west of U.S. 301.
The planning board recommended approval of that request, but not before some planning board members said they’d like the county’s public safety agencies to provide greater detail in their comments on a potential development and the increased public safety needs it will create.
Planning board member Jaime Girardi observed that he notices that many applications come in with “no comment” from public safety agencies.
County planner Doreen Roy told the planning board that when a request like this comes through, it is forwarded to the agencies for their review.
“I constantly have to send out an email, to see if we get comments and sometimes we just get an email back, ‘No comments.’”
Girardi continued: “But the sheriff’s department did respond back, ‘No comment’?”
Roy replied, “Correct.”
Planning board member Peter Hanzel added: “Just to springboard from that, what about the fire department?
Roy replied: “The fire department, I usually never hear from them.”
Hanzel responded: “I think it’s 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.
“I think there should be some pressure applied that they indicate that, ‘Yes, we have reviewed this and we do not concur, or we concur, or we have comments,” he said. “I think that needs to be a positive response, rather than no response.”
Chief Assistant County Attorney David Goldstein told the board: “The problem with saying that they have to provide comments, is that it has the potential of slowing down an otherwise meritorious application for months and months simply because the department doesn’t want to focus on it.
“Applicants were put in limbo for months and months because staff was waiting on comments from affected agencies and not getting any,” Goldstein said. “At some point, it becomes a fairness to the applicant issue.”
Hanzel said he has no desire to slow the process down.
But planning board member Derek Pontlitz asked if the Pasco County Commission can compel the agencies to respond.
The county has jurisdiction over Fire/Rescue, but not over Sheriff Chris Nocco, who is an independent constitutional officer.
However, Goldstein added: “We also don’t have the authority to compel the school board to do it, either, but they do. They recognize the value of being able to participate in the planning process.”
Goldstein added: “At one point, I thought the sheriff recognized the value, too, because at one point he asked for a seat on the Planning Commission.”
But the Pasco County Commission turned down that request.
Goldstein said that county staff responded by involving the sheriff’s office more in the pre-app and application process, but he doesn’t know why the sheriff’s office isn’t more actively involved in the process.
The attorney continued: “The school board actively participates and probably gets certain developer concessions that they otherwise wouldn’t have gotten, had they not participated in the process.”
Even when the county is planning very large projects, it doesn’t get much feedback from public safety, Goldstein added.
“For example, the Villages of Pasadena Hills has sites allocated for parks, sites allocated for schools, roads, utilities. To the best of my knowledge, there’s no specific sites allocated for fire stations or sheriff substations.
“Probably the same thing in Angeline. So, it is a problem. I’ve raised this concern in the past, but I don’t have a solution,” Goldstein said.
Planning board member Chris Williams, who represents the school board, agreed with Goldstein’s assessment.
With the master-planned unit developments coming to Pasadena Hills, fire station sites likely will be needed, Williams said.
Pontlitz noted: “Public safety appears to be a little bit more reactive, than proactive.
“We could get away with being more reactive when there wasn’t a whole lot of growth going on. But there’s a lot of growth going on,” he said.
It’s an issue, he added “because it takes time to actually purchase assets and hire a staff. In the case of fire/rescue, to buy new trucks and ambulances, it has to be budgeted well in advance. That could be a couple years process right there.
“So, the earlier in the planning process this gets addressed, with some substance, the better,” Pontlitz said.
The planning board’s comments follow repeated appearances by union representatives for Pasco’s Fire/Rescue responders urging the county board to provide additional resources to reduce their emergency response times. Sheriff Chris Nocco also has appeared before the board to highlight the law enforcement agency’s significant manpower needs.
Published January 25, 2023