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Ruskin’s downtown revitalization: a plan within a plan

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During all the planning processes one theme for “downtown Ruskin” has prevailed: that of Old Florida- resembling towns like St. Augustine and Mt. Dora.

By PENNY FLETCHER

RUSKIN — Hillsborough County Comprehensive Plan. Individual community plans. Overlay Plan. Downtown Plan. Town Center Plan.

Why, it’s no wonder people get confused!

I’ve been writing about a proposed Overlay District for an area along U.S. 41 starting at Big Bend Road and ending at the Little Manatee River Bridge in south Ruskin since monthly community Overlay meetings began at the South Shore Regional Library nine months ago.

The Overlay District would put some regulations into effect in that area over and above the county’s usual zoning requirements. The proposals that came from community residents and business owners in working groups have finally been put to paper by county zoning staff and will be on hand to view – with maps and other visuals –at an Open House March 27 from 6 to 8 p.m. at that library. County staff will be available for more public input on the Overlay then as well.

Meanwhile, however, hearing comments from people at the Overlay meetings about other plans affecting the same area, using phrases like “duplication of efforts,” led me to examine the relationship of all the plans affecting Ruskin.

Why are there so many, and how are they different?

I knew if I had been covering planning and zoning in that area since 1984 and often found myself confused, that others were probably confused as well.

County planners agreed.

“Explanation of this is good for residents,” said county planner John Healey in a telephone interview March 9. “We have been very careful to see that there has been no duplication of efforts and a lot of people don’t understand what the differences in the plans are.”

Information gathered from Healey and from Michael Peterson of Apollo Beach, who has been active in all the planning efforts, explains the sequence of planning and zoning and how it will affect the look of downtown Ruskin in the future.
The Overlay affects both Ruskin and Apollo Beach, because both communities were interested in improving the look of U.S. 41, Healey said.

“This interest in improving the look of U.S. 41 came directly out of the community plans,” he explained. And the community plans that evolved from the county’s need for a comprehensive plan that covered every community in the county.
Hillsborough County has a comprehensive plan for zoning. Many areas of the county were included before the area south of Brandon because South County was still relatively undeveloped.

Then, in 2003, South County plans began in each community which would (when completed and approved by County Commissioners) become part of the Hillsborough County Comprehensive Plan.

The community plan done in Ruskin was adopted into the county’s comprehensive plan in 2005.

“It (the community plan) showed real concerns about Ruskin’s downtown area, so a separate working group was set up just to work on that,” Peterson explained.

So both the Overlay and the Ruskin Town Center plan are an outgrowth of concerns shown during the community planning process.

“When we were doing the Ruskin Community Plan we saw that there were so many diverse areas in Ruskin we needed more work there. It’s tougher to revitalize an area that’s already been built than to put zoning regulations in an area where there’s nothing,” Peterson continued. “Plus there are multiple property owners involved there.”

“The first sifter is the Hillsborough County Comprehensive Plan. It sets standards for what can, and cannot be proposed. The second sifter is the Ruskin Community Plan and the third sifter is the Ruskin Town Center plan,” Peterson said.

Confusion sometimes happens because people refer to the Town Center plan as the Ruskin Downtown Plan.

The name of the plan being worked on to revitalize downtown Ruskin is the Ruskin Town Center Plan, or RTC. There is no plan named “Downtown.”

The Ruskin Town Center development regulations were approved into the land development code of the county’s Comprehensive Plan in 2006 – stemming from the desires shown during the Ruskin Community Planning process, Healey said.

Then in April 2007 County Commissioners approved rezonings in downtown Ruskin changing some plots from “commercial neighborhood” to “general commercial” and others from “multifamily residential” to read, “RTC.”

The total area affected by this RTC is 84.64 acres, with the north/south area being between 2nd Avenue S.E. to just above 8th Avenue N.W. and the east/west portion between 1st Street N.W. to 3rd Street N.E.

“Hence, beyond the community plan it gets pretty detailed with intensities and public spaces,” Peterson said. “There are limits on heights and parking areas on any new development, and special zoning that will say that certain things facing 41 must be screened.”

The RTC area is in the center of the proposed three-part Overlay District. This is because it is a “Main Street” while the areas to be included in the Overlay north and south of it are corridors to move traffic.

During all the planning processes one theme for “downtown Ruskin” has prevailed: that of Old Florida- resembling towns like St. Augustine and Mt. Dora.

Owners of existing buildings will not be subjected to standards that new buildings will, but they will be affected by fencing, landscaping, screening and other standards imposed by the Overlay (if approved) and (those within the specified area) also by the RTC. 

While it was once reported in The Observer News that a developer was interested in developing the open black-topped area just south of the Ruskin Post Office, Healey said that the recession caused that developer to halt his plans and as of this date there is no change pending for that area.

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