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Splintered citizen planners moving on – along different tracks

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With a new local name added to the mix and a new county planning executive anticipated on the scene, splintered South County citizen planners are moving ahead – but on separate tracks.

By MELODY JAMESON

UZITA SHORES – With a new local name added to the mix and a new county planning executive anticipated on the scene, splintered South County citizen planners are moving ahead – but on separate tracks.

What was to have been the Little Manatee South Phase II Implementation Group, expected to undertake more precise planning of undeveloped acreage between U.S. 41 and U.S 301 adjacent to the rural residential community of Sundance, was split apart last month when a majority of the members voted to eliminate the Sundance representation which did not agree with their planning approach.

The two factions – one with interests predominately in large acreage holdings, the other primarily residential lot homeowners - had emphatically disagreed about basic planning objectives, each side accusing the other of trying to overwhelm its opposition.

Subsequently, both a new name has been adopted and a new leader of the planning agency that had been guiding the group has surfaced.

The core citizen planning group now consists of six members, according to Will Redd, its chairman and land manager for the Mormon Church which holds large tracts of land in the area. Bill Casey and Peg Knowles represent residential property interests related to the area west of U.S. 41, plus the area between U.S. 41 and I-75, Redd noted. Gus Muench, a commercial fisherman who lives in the Cockroach Bay area, represents environmental interests. Mike Houghtaling, son of the late Dooley Houghtaling and with an interest in the family citrus fruit enterprises, is the business representative. Mike Peterson, a land use attorney based in Apollo Beach who numbers large land owners among his clients, is the agricultural representative along with Redd.

This planning committee as now constituted does not include the seventh member that was envisioned when guidelines for the second planning phase implementation were drafted: a representative of residents in Sundance.

It is essentially the six-member group that has agreed to rename the planning area “Uzita Shores.” Muench, explaining the name change to members of Hillsborough’s Planning Commission this week, said that Sundance as a community is effectively built out and added that the remaining acreage now subject to more precise planning has been unnamed, hence the new moniker.

The term incorporates the name of a pre-Columbian Indian tribe known to have lived in the area and variously recorded also as “Ucita” or “Uceta,” along with the second locational word “Shores,” reflecting proximity of Tampa Bay’s eastern shore and adopted, as well, by some organizations in the Ruskin area.

Muench has championed variations of that name for the area during the last several years and early this week encouraged planning commissioners to view the Little Manatee South Plan area now as a “ district of different communities.”

The Planning Commission also is bringing something new to the scene as its long-time executive director, Bob Hunter, retires this month from active leadership of the organization that has guided professional planning efforts at multiple levels around the county for decades.

He is to be succeeded on May 12 by Ray Chiaramonte, a seasoned planning veteran with experience in several Hillsborough County agencies. Chiaramonte has been involved in local planning for more than 35 years and has been leading the Metropolitan Planning Organization, engaged in long range transportation planning, since 2008.

Meanwhile, former members of the citizen planning ensemble who were voted off the first implementation committee in March – residents in the rurally-oriented Sundance community and representatives of its homeowners association – are no less concerned, no less vocal and no less determined to be heard.

Sundance representatives will continue to state their case regarding the ongoing planning process, focusing on county commissioners, Ralph Greenlee, an HOA officer and former citizen planner, said this week. Greenlee also has questioned how a legitimate planning process can continue without including representation for a substantial number of residents living adjacent to and potentially affected by whatever is newly implemented for the planning area.

While still members of the citizen planning group, Sundance representatives such as Greenlee and Bob Iocca expressed the community’s fears that large scale residential development of the surrounding acreage could very negatively impact their rural lifestyles.

They also had argued that as the second planning process moved ahead agreements among the various factions represented should be reached by general consensus among the membership based on mutually accepted compromise. Other members and professional planners had called instead for consistency with the community plan already hammered out and approved by various authorities.

Since leaving the citizen planning group, Greenlee said the Sundance contingent also has answered, refuting and rebutting point by point, the reasons cited by Peterson as rationale for eliminating the Sundance representation.

In addition, they have met with Hunter to discuss the situation. However, even though Hunter has recommended returning Sundance representation to the planning committee, Greenlee indicated he does not now foresee that transpiring.

“We worked with the planning group for three years (producing the now-approved community plan) and they got everything they wanted. Why the sudden lack of trust now?,” he asked rhetorically.

Redd said the next meeting of the citizen planners considering implementation of additional planning techniques for Uzita Shores is scheduled tentatively for April 17.

Copyright 2012 Melody Jameson

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