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Proposals for zoning overlay presented at Open House

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image Boy Scouts earning their Community Citizenship Badge, took one step closer to becoming Eagle Scouts by being involved in the Overlay Plan. Here, from left, are Alec Leslie, Rowdy Driggers, and Brandon Cusic along with Denise St. Sauveur, who supervised th

Residents pack March 27 meeting.

By PENNY FLETCHER

RUSKIN — County planners spoke to a packed house for the first time since meetings concerning a proposed zoning overlay along U.S. 41 from Big Bend Road to the Little Manatee River Bridge started 10 months ago.

Instead of the usual 15 to 20 people, at least 80 packed into the meeting room at the South Shore Regional Library March 27 to see the many charts and drawings compiled after getting public input at monthly meetings for the last 10 months.
Large posters showed the preferred methods of signs, landscaping, parking lot arrangement, and (for new or renovating businesses) building design.

It was made clear that the building design requirements only apply to new construction of retail commercial or office space and not to residential or manufacturing or industrial plants.

Planners said manufacturing and industrial plants were deliberately left out so future industry and jobs would not be discouraged in the areas already zoned for heavy commercial like the area surrounding the intersection of Big Bend Road and U.S. 41 all the way west to Tampa Bay.

There are some specific rules that could apply to existing businesses (retail and offices) renovating more than certain percentages of their space.

 “There will be a design exception process in place to deal on a case-by-case basic,” pointed out planner Jose Fernandez, who has been in charge at most of the monthly meetings. “We realize there are parts of Ruskin that are already built and thriving and we don’t want to put a stop to that.”

But how to make certain beautification requirements of the overlay work in areas already built is a major concern to some.

Debbie and Kevin McGrary want to build a retro-style bicycle store with all the bells and whistles including spinning classes and a nutritional bar in the open area of Thriftway Plaza, which is the area bordered by the Ruskin Post Office, Marwan auto and two strip malls.

A large section of this plaza has been bare since a fire destroyed the Thriftway grocery store there about 15 years ago. Recently, this has been one of the main areas of concentration of the Ruskin Town Center group which is working on future plans for Ruskin’s downtown beautification and development between College and 19th avenues.

“If the businesses that are in that plaza aren’t going to have to abide by the overlay standards,” Debbie McGrary said, “we won’t want to put our money in it.”

They said they would have to take their business to another town.

But the shop they propose is just the kind of thing the RTC is looking for to anchor that dark, bare area. Several improvements have been made there already, including a large mural on the south side of the last building in the back of the plaza that was done as a community art project several years ago.

“We have to make sure the rest of the center is made to fix up before we go any further,” Debbie McGrary continued.

The McGrarys have lived full time in MiraBay for only four months but have been traveling back and forth between their home in Maryland and Ruskin for many months planning their venture.

Sandy Council, who has been working hard on the work group that gathered public input from both Ruskin and Apollo Beach residents over the last months, said that perhaps some administrative process could be put in place to deal with the case by case basis that long-time businesses in Ruskin present.

“The lot sizes and buildings don’t allow for change to the location of parking lots and things like that like they do with new development,” Council said.

Fernandez and fellow-planner John Healey shared the comment sheets that were written during the meeting with me several days later, after they had been read by county planners.

They included such things as the following quotes:

We need to seek grant funding

We need to address the noise and nuisance issues with more buffer zones and landscaping

We need more mixed-use right

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