As the Pasco County Planning Commission considered a request for a special plan reviewer for the Villages of Pasadena Hills (VOPH), planning board members took the opportunity to encourage the county to find ways to speed up its development review process.
The VOPH asked the county to dedicate a specific planner to handle plan reviews within the special district, which county staff resisted.
“I think their general thought was since they’re paying an extra fee that is not paid throughout the rest of the county that that entitles them to their own reviewer,” said David Goldstein, chief assistant county attorney.
But Nectarios Pittos, the county’s director of planning and development, and Ernest Monoco, manager of special districts, said having a specific planner to handle those issues is not a viable solution.
The planning board ultimately agreed with the staff, to recommend to the Pasco County Commission that it rejects the request for the dedicated VOPH planner. But they also urged county staff to find a way to shorten the amount of time needed to complete the county’s development review process.
Planning Commissioner Jaime Girardi put it like this: “I know it’s unprecedented times for the county, and this isn’t obviously the forum for the discussion. But I know there’s a lot of developers out there that are getting extremely concerned with lengths of review time, lengths of pre-application times. Because they see the fees that they’re paying and they know those fees are getting collected, yet there’s not allocation to hire additional staff to support the workload.
“Everybody here understands the problem, and it’s a great problem to have, but it’s out there. I just want to make sure that it’s getting taken care of.”
Girardi continued: “You have great staff here, but I feel they’re under more and more stress every single day, from everybody. I worry for the people here, as much as anything.”
Planning Commissioner Peter Hanzel added: “Is there a possibility you could contract with a vendor out there who could do some of the work, and therefore kind of catch you up? There’s got to be a corporation or a business or a private entity that can bring in some people, do the work — you contract that work out for a short period of time. You only need that manpower for a short period of time anyway.”
But Monoco explained: “The review is more than just the planner. You distribute the review to various entities within different departments. There’s a lot of coordination. It’s bigger than just a particular division within the planning department.”
Richard Tonello, representing the Pasco School Board on the planning board, said the school district takes part in those reviews.
“It’s a huge undertaking. People have to know the county. They have to know the land use. The land development code. There’s a lot to learn. You just can’t farm that out. It’s very difficult,” Tonello said.
Goldstein added: “In my experience, consultants are best utilized for specific tasks, for specific projects.
“I would say that normal standard review of zonings and MPUDs (master-planned unit developments) is probably still best handled by internal staff.”
Board Chairman Charles Grey said “I think it’s important, Jaime, that you brought that to everyone’s attention. I think we all know it. Sometimes it’s a good idea to just vocalize it.”
Planning board members, Grey said, have been hearing complaints about how long it takes to go through the process.
“Of course, they (those complaining) don’t realize how much work goes into it,” Grey said.
The chairman also acknowledged Goldstein’s comment that “you can’t just necessarily hire somebody off the street to do certain functions of the review process because it takes a lot of expertise, a lot of background information.”
Planning Commissioner Chris Poole noted: “This is not unique to Pasco. All of the surrounding counties are experiencing the same thing. The county immediately to the south is much worse.”
Pittos said there are proposed initiatives in the 2022 Pasco County budget to help planning and development to obtain more resources and more people, but final action on the budget won’t be taken until September.
Meanwhile, Planning Commissioner Roberto Saez said the City of Clearwater and Pinellas County are outsourcing engineering services and it has sped up their reviews.
Published July 07, 2021