Darrell Thompson is a citizen advocate on a mission to make Pasco County a safer place to live.
His quest started nearly a year ago when a motorist ran a stop sign and nearly hit him in his Union Park neighborhood.
“You get a wake-up call when a car goes through a stop sign, and you have to jump out of the way,” Thompson said.
But, he didn’t immediately blame the motorist. The problem was obvious to Thompson, as he surveyed the intersection.
“He didn’t see the (stop) sign,” he said.
The sign was hidden behind branches from a tree planted too close to the sign, in violation of county code.
Since then, Thompson has documented multiple unsafe intersections within Union Park, as well as other area subdivisions.
He also has found examples of partially built sidewalks, roads that need crosswalks, and poor handicap access.
The issue, according to Thompson, is an inspection system that isn’t working and allows code violations to slip through.
He’s become a familiar figure at Pasco County Commission meetings, showing up every two weeks in Dade City to press his case. His goal is to head off similar problems with future development in a county that is in a building boom.
Thompson’s criticism proved timely.
An update of the county’s comprehensive land use plan and a complete rewrite of the land development codes already are in the works.
“We’ll be doing these in tandem and make them consistent with one another,” said Kris Hughes, Pasco’s planning director.
Thompson has been invited to participate on one of several “working teams” that will gather public input for a task that will begin in January. It is expected to take 18 months to two years to complete the work.
Hughes said the county wants “to get a very balanced input from the public and business-related entities.”
Thompson is eager to participate, and present the photos and documents he has gathered.
“I want to make Pasco better than it already is,” he said.
His first concern is taking care of the hidden stop signs. He put in a request to the county for trees to be cleared from the intersections he has identified. He got a work order number in response.
“I don’t want to wait until after someone dies,” he said.
Thompson also takes issue with partially built sidewalks and inadequate handicap accessibility.
His photo exhibits include snapshots of dead-end sidewalks on either side of Oldwoods Avenue, a main roadway leading to the Union Park, Windsor and Meridian subdivisions.
While entrances into Meridian and Windsor have a completed intersection, with crosswalk and handicap access, there is no crosswalk or continuous sidewalks for pedestrians outside Union Park.
Thompson said a curve in the road only adds to unsafe conditions.
“(People in wheelchairs) drive down the road because they can’t get to the sidewalk,” Thompson said.
Heading toward Meadow Pointe, the sidewalk on the Windsor side of the road abruptly stops several feet from the intersection.
Pedestrians are left to walk through the grassy right-of-way to the corner, but have no crosswalk to aid them when they get there.
Worse, Thompson pointed out, a short ramp off the sidewalk leads straight into a right-hand-only turn lane.
“How does this get by an inspector?” Thompson said.
He has met with Hughes, who says he agrees with some of Thompson’s complaints.
“He made a very, very effective presentation to the board (of county commissioners),” Hughes said.
The matter of where trees are planted is a valid issue, for one.
Inspectors appear to have counted the number of trees planted, but not noted their locations, Hughes said.
County code states that stop signs, for instance, must be a minimum of 30 feet from the face of the sign to the tree.
“They should be inspecting it better,” Hughes said.
But, part of the inspectors’ role is to make sure developers meet required goals in site plans that require an exact number of trees. It sometimes leads to trees planted illegally in county right-of-way, Hughes said.
The solution probably is additional training and cross-training for county employees, he added.
On other issues, Hughes said development is subject to many factors that change over time. The partial sidewalks, or “stranded paths,” can happen, he said.
Residential projects are planned and approved, but, over time, building standards change. Different projects are approved at different times. Anticipated new roads get shifted or older roads widened. Sidewalks might not be extended until decisions are made on when and where a school is built. Or, there might be right-of-way issues.
And, Hughes said growth patterns change.
“It’s part of the process we have to go through.
“You look at what went before and you try to make it fit,” Hughes said.
Published November 22, 2017