By Ron Wolfe

Do you realize that when the notice of rezoning is timely received, SouthShore citizens only have from 38 to 70 days to organize a presentation to the Zoning Hearing Master? Also, if an appearance and/or testimony is not provided by opponents at the hearing, they are unable to oppose the rezoning because they are not considered to be a Party of Record?

Do you see the Public Hearing rezoning signs appearing in SouthShore with increasing regularity? An applicant for rezoning must place signs near the involved property announcing the date, time and place of the hearing for rezoning. In addition, a notice must be mailed to all residences within 250 feet of the property and to all registered organizations within 1 mile. Notices must also provide a phone number and instructions on how citizens can support or oppose the rezoning by phone, letter and/or an appearance at the public hearing.

Note: Once a rezoning application is filed, you cannot talk or write to any county commissioner about that application.

While documentary evidence can be submitted up until two days before the zoning hearing, there are strict time limits. The 65 minutes allotted for testimony on each application is divided and taken in the following order:

Proposal by applicant and witnesses: 15 minutes total for all speakers.

County staff findings: 5 minutes

Planning Commission findings of compliance or noncompliance: 5 minutes.

Proponents: 15 minutes total for all speakers.

Opponents: 15 minutes total for all speakers.

Staff amended recommendations, if any: 5 minutes.

Applicant rebuttal and summation: 5 minutes.

The Land Use Hearing Officer may grant additional time for "good cause shown," and may call and question any witness deemed "necessary and appropriate." Evidence that is irrelevant, immaterial or repetitious will be excluded. All testimony is taken under oath.

The hearing officer has 15 working days to file a rezoning recommendation to the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners based upon information presented before or at the public hearing. County commissioners make the final rezoning decision at a public "land use" meeting considering the application, the record of the public hearing and the recommendations of the hearing officer.

County commissioners do not have to allow testimony at their hearing. If they do, only Parties of Record who have filed a timely Request for Oral Argument are allowed to speak to the BOCC at their hearing. A Party of Record is:

A person who was present at the hearing before the Hearing Officer and presented either oral or written evidence.

A person who was notified by mail from the applicant of the hearing, except that area-wide civic associations are not automatically parties of record just because they received a notice.

A person who submitted documentary evidence for the file at least two business days before the hearing, or by proxy during the hearing.

Once again, please keep in mind that the BOCC does not have to hear oral arguments at their hearing if they choose not to. If they grant your request, your testimony must be the same as that you gave at the rezoning hearing or submitted in writing. If the BOCC permits oral arguments, the order and time allotments will be the same as those for the Land Use Hearing Officer hearing.

Finally, my special thanks to Carter F. White, Neighborhood Liaison Planning & Growth Management, who is an expert in Hillsborough County rezoning matters. He provided to me most of the information needed to make this column possible.

Send letters to: THE VOICE of SouthShore, P.O. Box 476, Ruskin, FL 33575-0476. Phone: 813-273-8976.


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