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Thursday, Nov 27, 2014
Tom Jackson Columns

Jackson: ULI’s good advice for imaginary county

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So, the latest batch of smart folks — the “thought leaders” — from the Urban Land Institute have come and gone, but before their return flights had gone wheels-up, the upshot of $125,000 worth of advice was already neatly summarized by a high-ranking Pasco County bureaucrat.

“In a perfect, good-planning world, they’re very rational proposals,” Richard Gehring, Pasco’s growth management chief, said Friday, “but I have to live in the world we’re in.”

As do we all.

The proximate target of Gehring’s get-real critique (you could almost hear his eyes rolling) was ULI’s recommendation that Pasco redouble its commitment to close-knit, pedestrian-friendly communities while simultaneously urging regional solutions to the Tampa area’s 24/7 transportation snarl.

But his take-down could as easily apply to virtually all the other ULI bullet-points, not least among this: The county should dismantle its mobility fee program.

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Never mind commissioners’ undue pride over an exquisite bit of government coercion designed to penalize private investors who stray to ill-favored corridors to subsidize development along U.S. 19 and State Road 54. Or that the ink is barely dry on the ordinance. The kicker is, commissioners thought they were codifying suggestions produced by ULI’s first visit five years ago.

Similar alien-worldliness attaches to other ULI recommendations that are so astonishingly boilerplate, they might have been inspired by a touring rock band’s between-numbers banter. The only trick is remembering where you are.

(Pasco) should buy up blighted property along (U.S. 19) with the goal of developing public-private partnerships for quality mixed-use in-fill projects. (Pasco) also should consider doubling its (tourist) tax to (4 percent) in pursuit of expanding (eco-tourism).

Because a thriving (arts) subculture fundamental to a desirable, self-sustaining community, (Pasco) should invest in a (performing arts center). And because the great majority of local employers are (small businesses), that’s where (Pasco) and (the Pasco Economic Development Council) should concentrate their efforts.

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As noted here last week, where Pasco is concerned, ULI has not been a fount of new ideas, and it certainly isn’t recommending strategies and tactics that haven’t been well-aired either in commission workshops and board meetings or even election campaigns.

Encouragement for small business owners to grow is a hardy Pasco evergreen, which reveals plenty about how much progress we’re making. As for hiking the tourist tax, after prolonged consideration earlier this year, the notion was soundly rejected. Did ULI misplace the memo?

Truly impressive, however, was ULI’s stern warning against a proposed elevated toll road along the State Road 54/56 corridor. A new highway, said sustainability specialist Diane Dale, would run counter to “high quality of life” communities that plan “for pedestrians and bikes, then transit and last, the car.”

Well. Rare are the days Pasco is mistaken for a potential Greenwich Village. Or Oakland, Calif., which — loss of life notwithstanding — benefited substantially, said former City Manager Charles Long, from the 1989 World Series Earthquake that took down a double-decked portion of the Nimitz Freeway, part of Interstate 880.

Back here in Pasco’s real world, we’re trying to figure out what’s not to like about a toll road that makes room for Bus Rapid Transit, takes traffic off existing roads and would be constructed and maintained with private dollars.

Because it would create two classes of motorists? Better put the wrecking ball to the Veterans/Suncoast expressway. Because mass transit is the superior solution? Even if it is, how does that affect a private toll road — or vice versa?

Besides, no matter what, Americans love their cars, love to drive and, hereabouts, love so much of what lies along Pasco’s southern flank, all of which would be satisfied by the toll road ULI recommends against.

Ah, maybe they thought they were in Pascagoula.

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