Pasco commissioners eyeing commercial landscaping violations

Pasco County commissioners last week discussed ways to address businesses that are not keeping their landscaping up in accordance to original site plans.

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County commissioners recently took a step toward holding businesses accountable to their originally agreed upon site plans when it comes to landscaping and their property’s outdoor upkeep.

Initiated by Commissioner Kathryn Starkey, the board heard a presentation from legislative aide Danny McAuliffe regarding the county’s Land Development Code, specific to commercial landscaping.

In past meetings, Starkey has addressed the issue of county businesses that aren’t living up to their end of the bargain in terms of original site plan landscaping and what currently exists. The county’s current Land Development Code relevant to landscaping applies to all development plans submitted after Feb. 26, 2002.

“This is a problem we’re seeing around the county, and I really see it in the businesses that have been up and running for 10, 15 years and they’re not being held to the standards that they’re supposed to when they built,” Starkey said during the county’s July 14 regular meeting.

McAuliffe’s presentation included six examples of county businesses not adhering to their original site plan and implementing landscaping expected to be on their grounds. This can mean the number or types of shrubs, trees, etc. were never planted or that they are not being properly maintained. Efforts were made not to specifically identify code violators at this time, especially in the midst of a global pandemic, but to highlight an issue that exists.

“We’re very sensitive to the economic hardships small businesses and businesses in general have been facing,” McAuliffe said. “It’s not about slapping businesses on the wrist. We really think that maybe they’re unaware of it. They don’t have the education about it. They’ve maybe forgotten; they’re not willingly breaking code and we don’t really want to fight with them.”

The crux of the July 14 presentation was for the county to add teeth to the code, so that businesses get their properties up to the aesthetic level agreed upon when their site plans were originally approved.

“How we can start making sure that we’re not letting our county slip back to where we were in the ’80s and before?” Starkey said. “A really bad landscaping job with a broken string of hedges and dead trees looks worse than nothing. It will come to your area and all the new stuff if you don’t stay on top of this.”

Starkey added that commissioners may need to look into how these issues can be enforced beyond Code Enforcement employees. “We don’t have someone who goes around and double checks on conditions of approval, so I think that’s really important. That’s not something code is able to do because they don’t know what the conditions of approval are.”

Commissioner Jack Mariano suggested the board set up a workshop on the matter to get feedback from all involved stakeholders.

“Let’s go find out what this community wants us to do and how we can try to make everything look better at the same time.”

A first step toward compliance, Starkey suggested, would be reaching out to businesses running afoul of their original site plans that may have been agreed upon as early as 2002.

“We think education is the first thing we should do,” Starkey said, adding that the template of a letter has already been drafted to let businesses know where they’re lacking in terms of original site plans.

“We do want our businesses to know, too, that we have the ability to help you with your landscaping,” Starkey said, mentioning the county’s tree mitigation trust fund and other available grant opportunities.