BY PENNY FLETCHER
It’s been a long time since anyone spoke of the Community Plans in South County, and many residents thought all the work they had done between 1998 and 2010 to develop the plans had gone by the wayside.
But recently, things have been going on behind the scenes.
For about 12 years, Hillsborough County planners from both the Development Services Department and the Planning Commission worked jointly with residents to get ideas from each community to see how residents wanted to see their areas develop.
The idea was to discourage sprawl, and keep each community unique so that by the year 2025, Apollo Beach, Gibsonton, Riverview, Ruskin, Sun City, Sun City Center, and Wimauma would each have their own unique brand.
The plans for each area were taken individually and worked on in open meetings and by volunteer committees which were open to anyone who lived, worked in, or owned property in the area.
But after the planning stages, county money ran out, said Ed Arnold of the county’s Public Utilities Department. That was in 2010.
Now, a very initial first step has been taken in Apollo Beach.
Arnold spoke in a telephone interview about a study that was in progress in June and July along Apollo Beach Boulevard, where subcontractors from Adams Traffic Inc. in Plant City were counting cars, bicycles and pedestrians in the 2.1-mile area between U.S. 41 and Surfside Boulevard.
“We were asked to do a preliminary study to determine the feasibility of a PDE,” Arnold said. A PDE is a preliminary Development Environmental Assessment Study.
“We’ve been collecting data,” Arnold said. “And we’re looking at the ‘wish list’ submitted by residents to see how much of it could actually be done if we had the money.”
The ‘wish list’ to which he refers is available at http://www.docstoc.com/docs/39833294/APOLLO-BEACH-COMMUNITY-PLAN in case readers want to view it in its entirety.
Basically, the community plan deals with things like community character; public facilities; roads and traffic; future development and retrofitting of older structures, especially in business districts; strengthening community associations; and attracting economic growth.
But there are other things on Apollo Beach’s plan as well which the county cannot address, Arnold explained.
“People want things like underground utilities and golf cart lanes along the boulevard, and they don’t realize those things can’t be done by the county,” he said. These things must go through various departmental agencies including the Florida Department of Transportation, and some even require legislative action.
Usually Public Works deals with things like intersection improvement, but has dealt with many issues it doesn’t usually study, Arnold said.
“The small stretch of roadway has 160 properties on it. There are so many parcels that even collecting the preliminary data is an expansive project,” he said.
After the preliminary study, the county will have to do a full-blown PDE, Arnold added. “But there may not be money for that at this time.”
There isn’t much that can be done in the way of widening the boulevard without going into people’s private properties, so mostly the work would have to concentrate on curb and gutter and median changes, he said. “The boulevard is a very tightly constrained area,” he said.
John Healey, a planner with the Development Services Department for many years who has worked on all the community plans in South County, is familiar with the Apollo Beach plan and the constraints of the boulevard.
“We have to assess the existing conditions before we can go into anything more,” he said. “We may get to see the results of the preliminary study go in front of the board (County Commissioners) in August. “Improving the boulevard is only one of many projects in the Apollo Beach plan that people want to see happen.”
So even if residents don’t see or hear much about all the planning work they did, they can be assured the county has not forgotten them and is visiting every request and weighing what can actually be done against how much money is coming as dollars are released into the budget, Healey said.