Pasco County commissioners recently directed the county’s staff to find a way to ease the burden of landscaping costs for small businesses, when they redevelop.
Commissioner Ron Oakley raised the issue, noting that a small Dade City restaurant wants to add a porch, but found itself facing expensive county landscaping requirements.
“They have no place for people to wait. It’s a small restaurant. If the restaurant is at full capacity, there’s no place for people to wait, so that’s part of why they were going to do like a porch, or something, out in front of it, so people would have a place to sit and wait to have breakfast or lunch,” Oakley said.
The commissioner added: “It seems like the cost of upgrading their landscape is just very, very expensive, and makes it prohibitive.”
Oakley said he’s not advocating that the restaurant do nothing, but that the requirements be less extensive and thus less expensive.
“When you take into consideration — a Mom and Pop restaurant — if that landscaping is going to cost them $40,000 or $50,000, they’re forever trying to earn that money, just to stay open.
“So many of them are having a hard time, now, so we need to look at that,” Oakley said. “Some of these businesses, right now, are closing down. They just can’t make it. It’s a shame.”
Commissioners Jack Mariano and Mike Wells said they’ve also noticed the problem.
“I agree with Commissioner Oakley,” Mariano said. “That (landscaping requirement) is causing a problem. I think it has really hurt redevelopment along (U.S.) 19.”
Mariano suggested using funds from the county’s tree mitigation fund to provide an incentive for landscape improvements.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey concurred: “I like Commissioner Mariano’s idea of maybe helping them more. We don’t know the facts, here. I want to make sure that they know that right off the bat, there’s $10,000 that we can help them with their landscaping, Commissioner Oakley.
“But, let’s look to see if there’s some way we can help them more. We don’t want it to be a disincentive and not let these businesses expand,” Starkey said.
On the other hand, Starkey said she doesn’t want things to go back to the way they were when an entire site was covered with a building and parking, without landscaping.
County Administrator Dan Biles said “landscaping reimbursement out of the tree fund is capped at $10,000. We could look at increasing the cap. I think that cap has been there for a while. Inflation happens to landscaping, like everything else.”
Biles said he believes the fund now has more than $1 million.
“We could look at maybe bumping that cap up, to cover some more of these costs. Let’s take a look at that,” Biles said.
Commission Chairman Mike Moore said he’d like a more detailed discussion of what triggers the landscaping improvements and more information about landscaping reimbursements from the tree mitigation fund, when Biles bring the issue back to the board.
Wells said he can think of two projects in his district where exceptions were made and they received reimbursements exceeding the cap, with the board’s approval.
“I think if you’re not adding to the square footage, it shouldn’t necessarily trigger it. That’s why we matched these folks with the funding,” Wells said.
“It’s tough for these businesses, not only now, but for the last several years. We need to help them to expand, move, hire more people and so forth.”
Mariano also would like to see if the process could be set up for the landscaping companies to be paid directly by the county, instead of having the business owner pay the landscaper and then be reimbursed for their payment.
“A lot of them can’t float that,” he said.
“I think most of your landscaping companies would probably be comfortable to work that way,” Mariano added. “We’ve just got to be flexible.”
Biles said he will take a look at increasing the cap for reimbursements, and at streamlining the process to get approvals more quickly — and then will bring it back to the board.
Published October 07, 2020