This article appeared in The St. Petersburg Times in August 1997:
Joey Holloway remembers quieter days.
Born and raised in Land O’Lakes, Holloway, 36, recalls days when traffic whispered through town.
Now it roars.
“Everything’s moving north up here,” said Holloway, owner of Holloway’s Farm Supply on U.S. 41. “Tampa’s filling up. People are coming here to get away from the violent areas.”
Growth, like death and taxes, is a fact of life here.
Where cattle and citrus trees once dominated, dirt-hauling trucks and minivans roam.
“I don’t mind the growth really,” Holloway said, “as long as county commissioners control it and make sure we have sufficient water and sewage and roads to keep up with the growth.”
Every year, more than 1,000 new residents move to south-central Pasco County. The area now has an estimated population of 36,000. That’s expected to more than double by 2020. Pasco County planners and commissioners regularly approve new residential projects for the area.
Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Transportation is only just now getting around to widening roads like U.S. 41 and State Road 54 to meet today’s needs.
And the Pasco County school district, reliant as it has been on insufficient state funds, is scrambling to find new ways to build schools to handle the influx of young families.
All this must be balanced with environmental concerns.
Welcome to life in the new boom.
Last year, Pasco County issued 191 building permits for single-family homes in the county’s central planning area, which stretches roughly from Odessa to Saddlebrook to Shady Hills to Meadow Pointe.
As of July 31, the county already had issued 180 permits for single-family homes in the same area. At this pace, the number of permits could break 200 by year’s end.
The new homes are coming to large-scale developments such as Sable Ridge, Willow Bend and Stagecoach in Land O’Lakes, and the Villages of Wesley Chapel, Meadow Pointe, Northwood and the Lakes of Northwood farther east.
They’re also coming to smaller neighborhoods: the Preserve at Lake Thomas, Swan Lake, Panther Run, Collier Place.
Most developments are approved without controversy.
Others, such as the 55-modular-home development across Lake Padgett from Craig Anderson’s house, are not so lucky.
Anderson, who moved to Lake Padgett Estates eight years ago, is building a new house on the same property. Waterfront homes in his neighborhood are built one per acre. Swan Lake allows two homes per acre.
Anderson worries that Dawnglo Landings, with six units per acre, is too much for the strip of land it would occupy along U.S. 41.
He also worries about the neighborhood’s access to Lake Padgett and the environmental damage that might cause.
Anderson, married with two sons, 4 and 5, sees growth sweeping over south-central Pasco like a cresting wave – and he doesn’t want the atmosphere that brought his family here washed away.
“I want the county to be consistent and careful in how they use the land,” he said. “Growth is coming, no doubt about it. I just hope some light is going off within the county so they are aware that we should be consistent and take proper measures.”
The Dawnglo Landings project will be considered by the county planning commission in New Port Richey at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Progress, along with lower taxes and insurance rates, lures more families to move here.
Fifteen years ago, the area had only one supermarket: U-Save.
One couldn’t buy a Big Mac, deposit a paycheck or check out blue-light specials.
Now, we’ve got four major grocery stores – with two more on the way in Land O’Lakes and Wesley Chapel.
Five chain fast-food restaurants that serve everything from McNuggets to pitas to Whoppers.
Four shopping centers – two with national chain discount stores – and a scattering of smaller strip malls.
We have the promise of improved mobility as the state:
Widens U.S. 41 and State Road 54.
Adds State Road 56, a bypass from SR 54 that will cut straight to Interstate 75 and proceed to New Tampa.
Builds the Suncoast Parkway to link Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties to Tampa.
“A lot of the transportation problems caused by growth are being resolved through DOT programs,” said Sam Steffey, Pasco’s growth management director. “These projects will help accommodate the traffic.”
Cheryl Ferris, director of sales and marketing for American Landmark Homes, said 15 to 20 people on average visit Sable Ridge each week.
So far, 75 houses have been built or are under construction in the development, which is slated to have 832 homes.
“Obviously, people come here looking for lower taxes, lower car insurance, better prices on homes because land values are less here,” Ferris said. “The area is booming, coming of age. Pasco has always had plus factors, but from an image standpoint it was always a little bit too far.”
The new and soon-to-be improved roads coming to central Pasco – along with the financial advantages of living in Tampa’s bedroom communities here – make for another attraction, she said.
Roads and schools can’t be built fast enough.
Traffic clogs like grease in a drain at U.S. 41 and SR 54.
Elementary and middle schools become packed with children, and state money dwindles for new school construction.
Still, the county approves a 700-home subdivision like Stagecoach, and new homes keep springing up in other neighborhoods.
Platon Rigos, a professor of government and international affairs at the University of South Florida, says the problem facing central Pasco sounds much like the one facing Florida at large: Suburban communities spring up around urban centers, with high demand for services and inadequate resources to meet the demand – leaving government struggling to match pace.
He said that a building moratorium might give the county time to respond to rapid growth, but since that isn’t likely to win approval, Rigos recommends higher impact fees.
“Commissioners have to make a choice,” Rigos said. “You can’t please developers and have growth taking place while keeping impact fees low.”
Pasco school Superintendent John Long agrees, and has asked the County Commission to consider an ordinance that would increase impact fees on new home construction to help pay for schools.
“I really believe growth ought to pay for itself in terms of schools,” Long said. “This is an ideal place for developers to make a lot of money, but the folks moving in should have to pay for the impact they are having.”
Ferris, the marketing director for American Landmark Homes, said impact fees paid by a builder would be passed down to the consumer, and that might hurt the market.
“If they impose more impact fees, it will hit the consumer and then we can’t be as competitive with Hillsborough,” Ferris said.
Susan MacManus, a USF political science professor and lifelong Land O’Lakes resident, thinks the time has come for Pasco County leaders to pay closer attention to the needs in central Pasco.
“In this area, we need to focus on the infrastructure that comes with high growth,” she said. “We need to think about street and road improvements, recreation facilities, and public safety.”
The rapid growth in central Pasco can be looked at from two viewpoints: those of the native and the newcomer.
“For the old-timer, it really looks like there is no such thing as controlled, methodical growth. It is, to them, simply a matter of commissioners selling out to developers and to hell with the taxpayer and common resident,” MacManus said. “For the newcomer, nothing can happen fast enough.”
Commissioner Pat Mulieri, who lives in Gowers Corner and represents much of Land O’Lakes, said the county does need to improve its growth-management practices, particularly around the trademark lakes that inspired the community’s name.
“Some of the densities in this area are set too high, and that truly concerns me around some of our lakes,” Mulieri said. “You might not be able to slow growth, but you can manage it. We need to pay more attention to growth around wetlands.”