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Rezoning proposal drawing fire in Riverview

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The next public hearing on the matter is scheduled for December 12.

By MELODY JAMESON

RIVERVIEW – Another showdown over uses of showman-owned residential properties is taking shape here once again.

This time the issue is whether a zoning overlay on specific home sites scattered across the neighborhoods of Tropical Acres (TA) can be applied to rectify long-standing violations of the community’s zoning limitations. TA property presently is zoned for land uses under the AS-1 category which allows agricultural and single family residential purposes on sites of at least one acre in size.

On one hand are 39 TA property owners involved in the show industry as vendors at carnivals, fairs and festivals around the country who are assertively petitioning Hillsborough County for Show Business Overlays on their home sites to legalize the maintenance and off-season storage of equipment there, their practice for many years. The owners’ properties are not contiguous.

The TA residents are being represented by Realtor Richard Bennett, serving as their consultant.

On the other hand, residents of the several new housing developments which have sprung up in the area during the last decade are vigorously opposing the overlay petition, questioning the current advisability and future ramifications of justifying zoning violations with changes in legal use limitations after the fact.

Sally Reid, a property owner in one of those new developments – Summer Springs – and most recently president of the community’s Homeowners Association, is their spokesperson.

Such disputes are not new to 40-year-old TA, originally developed as a mobile and manufactured home community spreading predominately east of Balm-Riverview Road, south of Riverview proper. Over the years, showmen initially clustered in the Gibsonton area have moved eastward, settling on sites in TA neighborhoods ranging in size from one to 10 acres, large enough to accommodate their food wagons, rides apparatus, tents. vans, RVs, even animal cages.

From time to time, conflicts have arisen over such matters as keeping large, caged show animals generally considered dangerous but located in the residential neighborhoods and parking pieces of bulky equipment resented by some neighbors as unsightly but maintained in home site yards.

Commenting in a memo related to the current rezoning petition, Bill Langford, an inspection and enforcement officer with Hillsborough’s Code Enforcement section, noted “there have been numerous sweeps and complaints in this community…”

Langford went on to suggest that information from the department’s files be considered as part of the petition evaluation, adding that his primary concern is issues of the past will increase if the overlay is approved.

And the present rezoning effort is not the first such move toward legalizing the contested uses. In 2008, a request for the same overlay on a half dozen TA properties owned by the Arnold family, which earns a living on the show circuit as Arnold Amusements, was presented but ultimately denied by Hillsborough’s county commissioners at the time. The vote was 6 to 1 against granting the overlay request.

However, Bennett said this week the showmen’s community took from that experience an interpretation that county authorities are interested in finding an acceptable solution that would bring the showmen’s uses of their properties in compliance. “It’s incumbent on the county to try to deal with this situation,” he added, “and I think the county and staff are trying to come up with a way to make it okay.”

After all, he asserted, showmen, their families and employees now generate “the number one economic impact” in the South County. They number more than 2,000 and pay property as well as sales taxes, shop local stores and utilize local business services when they are not on the road, he added.

The residential building boom that sustained the South County economy for several years in the last decade “will not return in our lifetimes,” the Realtor noted, also discounting the economic effects of local industrial employers such as Mosaic, the phosphate mining and processing giant with multiple South County operations. It is concentrated groups such as the showmen with their “huge investments in trucks, trailers, rides, etc.,” he suggested, that have economically replaced the overheated housing market.

As the showmen’s advocate, the Realtor turned zoning consultant emphasized that in zoning matters the positions taken must rest on “competent, substantial evidence.” He added that “there is no competent, substantial evidence to show that the show people have caused anyone any problems.”

Bennett also pointed to thousands of area residents who, he said, support the overlay effort. “Several local churches, schools and other organizations” are behind the petition, he stated, including the 5,000-member Showman’s Association and the Riverview Chamber of Commerce.

However, Tanya Doran, the chamber’s executive director, told The Observer this week that her business-oriented organization is taking no position on the petition. When it comes to such matters, “we’re about education,” she said, “and we believe everyone interested in the issues, regardless of position, should make their opinions known” to the decision- making authorities.

Reid, too, disputes much of Bennett’s rationale. Like many residents in the recently developed subdivisions of Summer Springs and Creek View and Moss Landings which border Tropical Acres, she has not been in the area as long as the showmen of TA but that fact does not alter importance of the underlying principle, she said. “They are trying to make wrongdoing right by changing the zoning. And that’s simply not right!,” she asserted.

 As for evidence, Reid points to the Riverview Community Plan, completed through community-wide consensus about six years ago, which does not make any provisions for special overlays to bring zoning violations into compliance. The Riverview plan, along with every other completed community guideline, was incorporated into Hillsborough’s Comprehensive Plan upon state and local approvals and therefore is part of its land use codes which are binding by law.

Like all community plans, Riverview’s concepts were designed to guide development from the approval date forward and do not call for development of a specific showmen’s community, which is what the proposed overlays put in place in spots across TA effectively would accomplish, she stated.

Gibsonton’s Community Plan, on the other hand, does foresee and encourage continued development of the showmen’s community in that locale, Reid added.

A zoning change to make legal the illegal storage of carnival equipment for years, she asserted, “is akin to saying ‘I’ve been storing toxic waste barrels on this property for many years, so why don’t you just declare it a toxic waste dump and everything will be OK.’ It’s ludicrous.”

Terry Flott, community activist and chairman of United Citizens’ Action Network, raised yet another concern. If the show business overlay were put in place in TA, she noted, the precedent then would be established for such spot zoning throughout the entire county and “I don’t think that was the intent of the Show Business Overlay concept.”

For his part, Bennett said this week that on November 9 he is going to give planners from both Hillsborough’s Development Services Department and The Planning Commission, along with the county zoning administrator, a tour of the area pertinent to the show business overlay petition. Of the 1,000 or so acres in TA, the petition affects no more than 45 acres, he said.

Planning maps, though, place those 45 acres on more than a dozen TA streets.

Asked if any of the opposing residents would be included in the tour, the Realtor said “no. We’ll debate them later; that’s what public hearings are for. Now, we’re debating with staff and planners the various conditions we’re proposing.” Those conditions include setback requirements, a limited number of temporary residents on a single property and screening devices such as fencing and shrubbery, he added.

Meanwhile, residents in the surrounding subdivisions are gathering forces and have retained legal counsel to advocate their positions, Reid said. They will, she noted, appear en masse for any meetings on the overlay.

The next public hearing on the matter is scheduled for December 12.

Copyright 2011 Melody Jameson

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