Pasco County should redouble efforts to encourage development along north-south U.S. Highway 19 in West Pasco and abandon the idea of building an elevated tollway along the east-west State Road 54/56 corridor, according to preliminary recommendations by a panel of urban experts visiting under the auspices of the Urban Land Institute.
ULI experts were in Pasco from Oct 7 to Oct 11. The panel was invited by the County to help evaluate its planning efforts since 2008, ULI's last visit.
Much of the ULI panel's visit to Pasco, the county immediately north of more urban Pinellas (Clearwater-St. Pete) and Hillsborough (Tampa) counties was dedicated to private interviews and discussions with the local community, business leaders, county staff and other stakeholders.
The ULI Panel acknowledged that the County has made significant strides since 2008 with the adoption of the Market Areas, Urban Services Areas, the County's Strategic Plan and other improvements. Although the ULI Panel applauded the County's recent planning efforts, it also cautioned Pasco County on several aspects of development.
"Pasco County has approved over 300,000 units for construction, adequate to meet the supply for next 75 years,'' says ULI Panelist Dan Conway. Because approved growth far exceeds market demand, the County should guide new development into designated Urban Service Areas on highways 19 and 54.
Redevelopment efforts along the U.S. 19 corridor should focus on creating Business Improvement Districts, providing redevelopment incentives and seek public-private partnerships to establish a "Corridor Lifestyle'' characterized by high-density mixed-use development within walkable distances from transit stops.
Panelist April Anderson Lamoureux recommends growing the health care sector and small business expansion. The County also should "embrace Eco-Tourism as one of its key development opportunity,'' adds Anderson-Lamoureux.
The ULI Panel recommended against plans to build an elevated tollway on the State Roads 54/56 corridor, connecting U.S. 19 to East Pasco.
"All around the Country there are at least 12 efforts to take down elevated highway structures since the community said they don't want them,'' says Pat Hawley, one of the ULI Panelists, referring to notable projects in cities that are turning highways into vibrant parks.
"You might have the potential to build the tollway but it would in fact impede the County's efforts of creating place making,'' concludes Hawley.
ULI Panelist Dan Slone suggested the County look at the "Highways to Boulevards'' initiative by the Congress for New Urbanism.
Lastly, the Panel asked Pasco County to embrace its diversity and cautioned against applying the same design standards throughout the county. The Panel is expected to give a full report within the next 90 days.
"ULI's recommendations validate our efforts to make Pasco a premier county,'' says John Hagen, President of Pasco Economic Development Council.
"The Panel may have just pointed us to the true North. I think we need to re-examine the elevated tollway.''
Headquartered in Washington D.C., the Urban Land Institute, is a nonprofit global education and research institute, which provides Advisory Services to communities for solving planning and policy issues.
The panel included economic development, real estate and urban planning experts, both from public and private sectors. On the final day of their visit, panel members presented their initial findings and recommendations at the West Pasco Government Center to a large gathering of nearly 100 people.
Writer: Vinod Kadu
Sources: John Hagen, Pasco Economic Development Council