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Professional planners praise South County projects

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A local community plan, an avian protection program and a pair of schools – all with South County connections – are winners this year of the Community Design Awards presented by professional planners.

The Little Manatee South preservation-oriented Community Plan, Tampa Electric’s unique big bird protection system and the Hillsborough County Schools design fitting two FishHawk educational facilities into one smaller green site received awards April 29 during the 28th annual recognitions banquet at the David A Straz Performing Arts Center, Tampa.

Appealing, perhaps, to osprey sensitivity, one of the techniques used by Tampa Electric Company as part of its award-winning Avian Protection Plan is the penthouse unit adjacent to but safely removed from power transmission lines. The sturdy, braced platforms lure the large birds to build their fantastical nests and rear their offspring without teetering atop electric pole crossbars or encountering potentially deadly wires.
Tampa Electric Company photo
The Community Design Awards program is conducted each year by The Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission to recognize the most outstanding efforts at beneficial planning undertaken by entities around the county. The categories, which entries demonstrate in some clear fashion the art of planning, include historic preservation, housing, sustainable projects, environmental efforts, public participation, master planning and commercial or public projects.

Accorded an Award of Merit, the Little Manatee South Community Plan was recognized for incorporating by virtue of seven years of consensus building a number of key concepts to guide future development of some 23,000 acres between the Hillsborough-Manatee County line and the Little Manatee River, bordered by Tampa Bay and U.S. 301. The principal concepts involve preservation of natural resources, preservation of space and character relative to existing neighborhoods, “green” design, orderly, timely growth, clustered residential development and regional connectivity including rail transit, along with opportunities for economic development.

The Little Manatee South guideline now is in the process of being adopted into the Livable Communities Element of Hillsborough County’s Comprehensive Plan.

The award, accepted by citizen planners Ralph Greenlee, Mike Houghtaling and Peg Knowles, also honored the late Dooley Houghtaling, a former county planning commissioner and longtime South County citrus grower who helped initiate the planning process that produced the Little Manatee South document.

Another Award of Merit went to Tampa Electric Company and its energy delivery department for a multi-faceted avian protection plan designed to prevent the accidental electrocution of Florida’s birds, especially the larger species such as eagles, kestrels, ospreys, hawks, and herons which are indigenous to Tampa Electric’s West Central Florida service area, including South Hillsborough.

Historically, the mortality rate has been highest among the larger birds because their longer wing spans allow them contact with two electrical wires simultaneously, explained Stanley Kroh, Tampa Electric land and water programs manager.

Consequently, five years ago the utility undertook a territory-wide review of its power line poles, identifying about 1,250 of them that could be retrofitted to help protect the birds, Kroh said. That review and retrofitting was completed late in 2009. A variety of techniques including insulating wires, insulating other pieces of related equipment and adding deterrents aimed at warning off birds such as brightly colored or fluttering materials attached to equipment posing a danger to them have been successfully employed, Kroh added.

The same techniques now are being used in connection with new pole installations, the manager also noted, adding “it’s a forever commitment” by the utility.

Tampa Electric’s avian protection program is unique among utilities, Kroh said, and is the only known endeavor of its kind to be undertaken in Florida. In addition to the planning commission award, the project also was recognized in March by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.

In the master planning category, an award of excellence was made to the Hillsborough County Public Schools administration along with its vendor contractors, Reynolds, Smith and Hills and Batson-Cook Construction, for their judicious planning, siting and construction of two new public schools in the Circa FishHawk section near Lithia.

Instead of consuming the customary 40 acres of land for Stowers Elementary and Barrington Middle School – 25 acres for a typical middle school campus and another 15 for an early grades facility – the planners on behalf of the school system developed a design that utilized an existing county park in connection with the two schools’ athletic departments and thereby reduced the land required to 32 acres, said Greg Colangelo, planning commission computer graphics designer who assisted with the awards program.

Incorporation of the six-acre park in the schools’ design and cooperation in the planning by several county agencies – parks and recreation, public works , schools administration - succeeded not only in reducing land use but also in “good school integration into the community” and this dual achievement is what the award recognized, Colangelo indicated.

The jury members who selected the winning projects from among the entries this year were from outside Hillsborough County with no connection to the planning commission.
Copyright 2010 Melody Jameson

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