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New citizen community planners aim to benefit from others’ experiences

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BALM — Community planners here are not aiming to reinvent the wheel.

In fact, residents involved in the process that will produce their guidelines for future development intend to benefit from the many other such plans around the county undertaken, completed and approved in recent years.

This small but historic community, home to descendants of several South Hillsborough pioneering families, is last of the eight distinct areas that comprise the South County to begin its individual planning process. Seven of them – Apollo Beach, Gibsonton, Little Manatee South, Riverview, Ruskin, Sun City Center and Wimauma - now have plans in place, made part of the county’s comprehensive plan.

Balm initiated its process last week with the customary open house conducted by professional planners from The Planning Commission staff who will assist those community members joining the plan advisory group through the 12 to 18-month program.

And, for Balm’s interested citizenry that program begins Monday (February 7) during a meeting of the community’s civic association, according to Marcella O’Steen, the organization’s president. Much of the session will be devoted to studying plans created not only in, by and for other South County areas but also from other parts of the county, O’Steen said this week. The meeting is set for 6:30 PM at the Balm Civic Center.

O’Steen said she foresees civic association members assembling that evening in several small groups, each reviewing and discussing the merits of a specific community plan based on the final documentation produced at the end of that community’s planning process. These plan “brochures” set forth each community’s vision of its appearance and character in the decades ahead, its optimum goals and objectives related to that character, as well as its strategies for achieving them. The brochures also detail a community’s history and may list any needed capital projects identified in the planning process, along with estimated costs.

The various completed plans, she noted, were hashed out under the guidance of different agencies and in differing manners. Ruskin’s, for example, was created with facilitation by planners from Hillsborough’s Planning and Growth Management Department while the Apollo Beach plan was done on a charette basis. In the latter instance, the community outlook was hammered out over a matter of weeks rather than months with the help of a nationally recognized planning expert engaged for the purpose by the county. Some plans have been recognized with awards from professional planning associations, others have not.

The association leader also said she is inviting representatives from other communities who participated in their local planning to attend the meeting next Monday and to overview for Balm’s citizen planners the “ins and outs of the process” as they experienced them. “It seems to me,” she added, “we may be able to benefit from their experiences, learning from any mistakes they feel they may have made, determining what might work and may not work in Balm, so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”

First elements of the Balm plan will begin to take shape on Thursday, February 24, when the process opens in earnest under the guidance of Lisa Silva and Pedro Parra, professional planners on The Planning Commission staff, according to Marcie Stenmark, a planner on the Silva-Parra team.

At this, the first in a series of planning sessions conducted in Balm through 2011, the ranks of the citizen advisory group that will consider various issues over the forthcoming months, will be filled out, Stenmark added, and anyone interested in joining the group can email Silva, SilvaL@planning commission.org. Over the planning period, citizen planners will take up such subjects as housing densities and other land uses, any structural design standards they deem necessary, use, expansion and improvement of transportation facilities, desired economic development, recreational features and other similar aspects of their community as they envision it in the years to come.

O’Steen, a Florida native who grew up in the cattle country of the state’s south central region, said that among the objectives Balm residents will be addressing are preservation of wetlands and water resources, enhancement of the community appearance plus protection and maintenance of the rural character.

Copyright 2011 Melody Jameson
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