A recent workshop session to discuss Pasco County’s five-year strategic plan update made it clear that the county must address wide-ranging needs and desires.
It also became obvious that as it is updating its plan, the county is undergoing significant growth, and is providing services for a population that is much younger than it was in the past.
At the same time, the work of the Pasco County Commission and the county’s planning board is facing greater scrutiny than it did before, Pasco County Commissioner Seth Weightman told consultant Patrick Ibarra, who is helping the county to update the strategic plan.
Weightman told the consultant, “People are excited to be in Pasco County. They’re excited about what the future is. But they’re also paying attention to what type of development we’re having, the quality of development, whether it’s rental, residential home product.
“They’re longing for something fun to do. They don’t necessarily want to travel south. They’re looking for more family friendly opportunities within closer proximity to where they live.
“So, I think there’s a higher level of demand on the decision-makers and the staff planning process to really increase the quality control measures of what we bring here. Be very strategic,” Weightman said.
At the same time, the board is facing a substantial volume of requests.
“We went from an older, sleepy, more rural county to … where there’s a lot of action going on here,” Weightman said, noting hundreds of people are moving to Pasco each month.
“We have tremendous opportunity to make some very smart decisions and our staff has tremendous opportunities to really plan — think bigger in their planning duties,” Weightman said.
Commissioner Jack Mariano told Ibarra that it’s important to make a distinction between the board’s decisions relating to comprehensive plan requests and applications for rezonings.
The comprehensive plan is based on the input of a wide range of people, Mariano explained.
“When we’re changing the comp plan, that’s a bigger deal than zoning,” Mariano said.
When the board changes the comp plan, it can be for things that residents don’t want and that’s frustrating for the residents, Mariano said.
“I think that’s where people are saying, ‘Why are you guys doing this? Why are you bringing apartments in here when I don’t need any? Why do I want to bring that in? I’ve got enough traffic on the road already. Where’s the benefit?’” Mariano said.
The county currently is working on the Pasco 2050 comprehensive plan update.
Commission Chairman Ron Oakley said it’s imperative to get that comprehensive plan update right, to ensure it reflects the county’s vision for its future.
County board members also discussed the need for new businesses to boost the county’s tax base and new jobs for residents, while at the same time expressing a desire to help small businesses thrive.
They also acknowledged the need for a supply of workforce housing, so employees can live and work in Pasco and not need to move to find affordable housing.
Ibarra reminded the board that the strategic plan must consider the services the county intends to deliver.
“Service delivery is changing,” Ibarra said. For example, he noted: “Most governments today, they’re not building tennis courts, they’re building pickleball courts.”
It’s also important to know what not to include in the strategic plan, Ibarra said. “Government does a lot of things well. One of the things it doesn’t do well is stop doing things.”
When writing the strategic plan, it’s important to ask: “What is no longer value-added because there’s not an appetite for it?,” he said.
It’s also essential to understand how to connect with residents.
“The young people, the way they want to work with government is online, virtually, when it’s convenient for them,” Ibarra said.
He asked commissioners: “Politics and citizen activism, is that increasing or decreasing in Pasco County?”
They responded: “Increasing.”
That’s happening around the country, he said.
“What we’re seeing is that social media is driving social change because on social media, there’s social capital. A lot of people, that’s how they’re trying to drive social change.
“You may not like it. You may be frustrated by it. But the fact is, it’s not a hiccup,” he said.
At the same time, there’s a large part of the populace who is not engaged at all with local government, Ibarra said.
“How do you make this (local government) compelling to people who are busy?” Ibarra asked.
Weightman had a couple ideas.
One way to reach young parents with families is to head out to the soccer fields, he suggested. Or, to hand out fliers in the car lines at schools.
Mariano had another thought: Why not have public hearings in the evenings, like they were in the past.
Weightman said that’s an idea he would not oppose.
Published January 24, 2024