Balm plan getting underway with community tour
By MELODY JAMESON
BALM — Looking ahead to onset of their first community planning process, four long-time residents here will show the professional planners their working material next week.
At least one planner from The Planning Commission staff, Lisa Silva, a senior planner, along with Gerald Davis, descendant of one of the community’s early settlers, Joel Capps, another settling family member, Beryl Burnett Fernandez, who also grew up in the community, and Marcella O’Steen, president of the local civic association, will spend Wednesday afternoon (December 8) touring the community from one end to the other.
The objective is to acquaint the professional planners with what the locals already grasp, “the lay of the land; what is and what has been,” O’Steen said this week.
The community, once a tiny settlement established initially around the turn of the 20th century which grew up on timbering and turpentine to become an agricultural center known for cattle and potato production before diversifying into other crops including citrus and strawberries, has attracted over the years independent folk interested more in rural living than city services. Many Balm residents live on small acreages, keeping horses and cattle for pleasure or profit. They all obtain their water from wells on their property and dispose of sewage through individual septic tanks systems because such municipal services do not exist and have not been desired.
Balm also has come to host, over sometimes strenuous objections, a massive landfill, a state prison, a small mountain of dry disposal matter and numerous commercial dirt pits which fed home, road and public structure builders’ need for fill during booming construction years earlier this decade.
On the other hand, it also is home to the sprawling Gulf Coast Research and Education Center affiliated with the University of Florida’s College of Agriculture, a growing educational and religious complex for Spanish-speaking migrants, a privately-owned equine exhibition center and a for-profit tree farm where locals still cut their Christmas trees. The community’s first residential subdivision sprang up in the last five years.
It is such assets and liabilities, the inherent values and traditions, that the citizens group wants the planners to see and understand from the resident perspective, O’Steen indicated.
Silva, who has been on The Planning Commission staff for seven years and involved with about a dozen community plans over the years, said the community tour prior to beginning the planning process is a welcome opportunity to see the area from the local vantage point. Depending on the demands of their schedules, other planners may accompany her, she noted, adding that she will record photographically what she sees throughout the community.
The working definition of a community plan from her perspective, she added, is development of a vision calling for goals and strategies that can be applied to a specific study area.
Balm’s plan, scheduled to start taking shape early in 2011 with Silva as facilitator, is the last of the new South County Community Plans scheduled at this time. Riverview’s formal plan encompassing an area north of Balm and Wimauma’s plan outlining area south and west of the community both have been completed, approved at state and county levels, and added to the Hillsborough County Comprehensive Plan which attempts to impose order on land use in the county.
Boundaries set in the two other plans, O’Steen suggested, may dictate the Balm study area because it is between the other communities. Silva, however, noted that establishing the community boundaries is not necessarily the first objective in the planning process.
The community planning process in Hillsborough County frequently has continued over an 18-month period and has lasted for as long as three years. It is to begin in Balm, as it has in other communities, with an open house hosted by The Planning Commission in the subject community where the process is explained and the local advisory group begins to form.
Copyright 2010 Melody Jameson