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Pilot projects reviewed under unique ‘villages’ community plan

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By MELODY JAMESON
mj@observernews.net
Wimauma – For the first time since this community’s planned village concept was put in place, two collections of “villages” arching over its northern edge are being considered.
Together, the two proposed projects encompass about 1,200 acres of former farm land, once producing tomatoes as part of the Spencer Farms operation of well known local grower Sonny Spencer, now retired. The acreage is contained in a roughly rectangular configuration stretching from West Lake Drive on the west across the north side of Wimauma to a point a short distance east of Railroad Street.
Most of the land is within the already-outlined urban services area that ultimately is to include public drinking water and wastewater disposal services which will have to be extended by the county. Both projects would be within the area designated in Wimauma’s community plan for develop.m.ent as part of its villages concept, a unique planning approach among community plans in Hillsborough County.
Both proposed planned develop.m.ents now are subjects of rezoning applications in different stages of the county’s review process. Presentations pro and con about Creek Preserve, the smaller of the two at 436 acres, were heard by a zoning hearing master on March 15. Its related rezoning petition, titled RZ PD 10-0147, seeks change in the property’s zoning from AR, which permits an agricultural use, to a Planned Develop.m.ent zoning designation in keeping with the projected residential develop.m.ent.
The second and larger proposed residential develop.m.ent, dubbed Spencer Farms and comprised of 750 acres, now is set for public hearing discussion, pro and con, on May 17. The related rezoning application, known as RZ PD 10-0231, was scheduled for hearing on April 19, but has been continued to the May date because of questions which have arisen, particularly concerning wildlife habitat, said Isabelle Albert, senior planner in Hillsborough’s Planning and Growth Management Department. As with the smaller project, the Spencer Farms petition seeks a PD zoning designation, changed from the existing AR.
The housing density in both residential develop.m.ents would be consistent with the village community plan limits; two dwellings per acre overall with clustering of homes that would double that density in some sections.
According to the most recently revised site plan, Creek Preserve would create a total of 1010 single family homes in a series of small “ villages” or neighborhoods on the total 436 acres. Among these, an affordable housing section is proposed on about 70 acres east of Railroad Street.
The develop.m.ent also is projected to include a little over 22 acres in parks and a trail system as well as some 68 acres of wetlands and conservation area.
The Spencer Farms develop.m.ent calls for 1,500 single family dwellings on the 750 acres, clustered in “villages” of approximately100 units, with much of the develop.m.ent on the eastern part of the acreage centered with a large “greenbelt park.” The site plan also outlines two smaller parks and 163 acres in wetland conservation area.
The site plan anticipates a north-south roadway through the develop.m.ent connecting to eventual extension of 19th Avenue east of U.S. 301 and foresees a road along its north border extending eastward to connect with Balm-Wimauma Road.
Public conservation land, acquired through Hillsborough’s Environmental Lands Acquisition and Preservation Program (ELAPP), is immediately north of the proposed Spencer Farms collection of villages.
In reviewing the Creek Preserve project, The Planning Commission noted the proposal is consistent with various requirements of the county’s comprehensive plan. But, several area residents took issue with assorted aspects during the March hearing. Marcella O’Steen, an activist from Balm, pointed to the number of empty “permitted lots” and “unbuilt develop.m.ents” in South Hillsborough, including the massive Triple Creek project north of Balm permitted in 2000 and now padlocked, Belmont, a develop.m.ent on U.S. 301at C.R. 672 which is at a standstill, and the under populated Ayersworth Glen north of the proposed Creek Preserve. Citing local law enforcement statistics, she asserted the situation contributes to increased crime.
In terms of jobs available for new residents of a Creek Preserve, O’Steen noted few exist in Wimauma and traveling outside the community to work creates yet another commuter subdivision, a circumstance Wimauma community planners sought to avoid. “It may work on paper,” she said, “but it doesn’t work in reality.”
Vivienne Handy, a biologist who emphasized she both lives and maintains a business in Wimauma, asserted that local community planners, including herself, specifically rejected affordable housing as a village component when putting their plan together. The community, she added, wanted to protect sensitive habitat, provide wildlife corridors and preserve the rural character.
Mariella Smith, a Ruskin resident speaking on behalf of the Sierra Club, called for “holistic” planning rather than “piecemeal” develop.m.ent approvals, suggesting that both of the proposed Wimauma projects slated to produce a total of 2,500 new single family homes be considered together. The develop.m.ent might be appropriate “20 years from now, but not now;” the infrastructure is not available, there are too many half built subdivisions on the market, she added.
Smith also pointed to the fact that S.R. 674 through Wimauma - a route Creek Preserve dwellers inevitably would use — is operating now at a level considered failed by transportation experts, without any added traffic.
Transportation dominated additional discussion during the March hearing focused on who would be held responsible for improving roadways into the proposed develop.m.ent at such points as 6th, Delia and 9th Streets. The primary entrance would be on West Lake Drive, sending drivers living in the new “villages” either north to U.S. 301 or south to S.R. 674.
The hearing master’s report based on the March testimony concerning the proposed Creek Preserve is expected in about a week, Albert said this week. And, the planner added, she expects to receive more information concerning the proposed Spencer Farms project prior to its May hearing. These, she summed up, “are sort of pilot projects” under Wimauma’s village plan.
© 2010 Melody Jameson

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