Three years ago, a group of school kids from Lacoochee climbed on their horses and waved posters, pleading for federal funds to pave the neighborhood’s muddy roads as tour buses slogged through the impoverished community.
Those buses were full of officials from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and other federal agencies. And the kids on horseback with their “Howdy Y’all” posters made a big impression.
A lot has changed since that June day. Habitat for Humanity has built eight new homes in Lacoochee, and construction is underway on a new 16,000-square-foot community center. Even small improvements, such as the county’s decision to add lights to the neighborhood basketball courts, make a big impression.
Beginning in May, Pasco County’s Public Works Department will start the long-awaited road paving project.
“We’ve been doing a lot of work behind the scenes,” Community Development Director George Romagnoli said. “So far you’ve only seen a little bit. Now you’re going to see the roads and it will be a visible difference for these people.”
The county is spending $3.5 million from HUD that was left over from the Tommytown project and will spend $1.6 million to pave 15 roads in the community. The rest of the funds will be spent later on improvements such as water lines, streetlights and sidewalks.
“We’re going to start phase 1 before June 1,” Public Works Director Michael Garrett said.
The first phase is the least complicated: the county will repave three existing roads that are in poor condition. The cost is $435,345, but before that work can start, the county’s Community Redevelopment staff will hold a public hearing May 7 at the Historic Courthouse in Dade City for the 61 property owners.
That’s because property owners in Lacoochee who benefit from the repaving will be required to pay a $3,000 paving assessment over the next decade. Homeowners who meet certain income criteria will be eligible for grants to pay the assessment. The county used the same policy for the Tommytown project.
“In Tommytown, we had so many absentee owners, we felt they should pay for those improvements,” Commission Chairman Ted Schrader said. “It had buy-in, or skin in the game, for those residents. They’re not just getting a road paved for free.”
Community Development Specialist Michelle Miller said 85 percent of Lacoochee residents meet the income requirements, but they will only qualify for the grants if their property is homesteaded. County staff will assist the homeowners with their grant applications.
“We will come forward later with a plan of action for utility improvements for the area, too,” she said. “This is just a part of the overall picture.”
The second phase includes paving seven dirt roads just off of Coit Road. It will cost $538,230 and will begin after the public hearing June 11. The third phase, which includes Mosstown Road and four other dirt streets, is the most expensive because it includes both paving and drainage.
“This phase of the project will require design, permitting and right-of-way acquisition,” Garrett wrote in a memo to commissioners. Phase 3 will cost $630,292, and property owners who don’t qualify for the grant will be assessed $3,858.