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Call to action as county changes Ruskin Land Code amendment

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While community activists are encouraged by the new language of the proposed Land Development Code amendment, no one is cracking any bottles of champagne.

By KEVIN BRADY
 
The county appears to have heard those calling for a change in a land code amendment that will guide growth in large areas of Ruskin.

Now it’s up to Ruskin residents to make sure their voices are heard and to ensure that county commissioners pass the amendment into law, say proponents of the change. If not, they fear Ruskin could turn into Brandon South, a hodgepodge of development with nightmare traffic and overburdened roads.

“I think the county finally has something that will work for the community,” said Mariella Smith, one of the leaders of an effort to rewrite the amendment. “It’s really important now that citizens show their support for this by contacting county commissioners,”

Adopted by the Hillsborough County Commission in 2005, the Community Plan was the product of two years of intense debate among residents, developers and county officials.

“We were assured it was adopted into the county’s comprehensive plan,” said Bruce Marsh, a retired University of Central Florida professor who was among a group of about 30 Ruskin longtime residents who helped write the community plan. Hundreds of others attended at least some of the meetings, giving their input on future growth.

“We thought it was all a done deal,” Marsh said.

And so did most everyone else until last April, when a developer challenged the Community Plan guidelines and county attorney Adam Gormley found the plan’s guidelines were not part of the county’s Land Development Code.

Now the county is proposing a new amendment to the Code to fix the oversight.

The original language of that amendment was met with a barrage of criticism by the majority of a standing-room-only public meeting last month at SouthShore Regional Library. Calling the language of the amendment “totally useless,” Smith urged a rewrite.

“They want to do it, but with a big exit for developers where anyone that wants to do something that’s not by the letter of the Community Plan just has to say it corresponds with the vague one sentence descriptions of each area in the proposed county amendment,” Marsh said.

Chastened, county officials have now produced new language for the amendment that they believe more closely resembles the intent and spirit of the Community Plan. 

“The language [of the second draft of the amendment] is much stronger and says that if you do not meet the guidelines of the Community Plan, you have to provide a document that justifies how you are furthering the intent, goals and vision on the Plan,” Smith said.

If passed, the amendment will give developers two choices: abide by the guidelines of the Community Plan and sail through the approval process, or provide detailed reasons why they need to opt out of the Plan’s guidelines.

At issue are specific guidelines in the Community Plan for land use, density and lot sizes in four areas of Ruskin:

Area 1: The Old Ruskin neighborhood west of downtown will feature lower-density, single-family housing in keeping with the traditional character of the area.

Area 2: This area east of downtown and west of the I-75 employment center will accommodate a variety of housing types, including multifamily and entry-level housing.

Area 3: This area south of College Avenue will accommodate a more suburban style and type of residential development with safeguards for the redevelopment of property along the Manatee River.

Area 4: This area southeast of I-75 will retain its rural and agricultural character and provide for enhanced interaction and access to the publicly owned lands adjacent to the Little Manatee River.

But while community activists are encouraged by the new language of the proposed Land Development Code amendment, no one is cracking any bottles of champagne.

Smith expects county commissioners to hear from developers who will oppose the amendment, “so it’s really important citizens let their voices be heard,” he said.

Have your say by phone, email or at public meetings.

Contact the county commission by calling 813-272-5660 or visit www.hillsboroughcounty.org and click on the “government” tab and follow the link to “contact your commissioner” under the “board of county commissioners” heading. This link also provides each commissioner’s email contact.

At 6 p.m., on Thursday, April 24, the first of two public hearings will be held with the Board of County Commissioners.

The Planning Commission will review the amendment for consistency with the Comprehensive County Plan on May 12.

Commissioners will vote on the amendment at their 6 p.m., May 29 meeting after the second and final public hearing.

Both public hearings will take place on the second floor of County Center, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd. in Tampa.

Note: A county email announcing public meetings on the new amendment at SouthShore Regional Library on April 17 and 22 was sent out in error.

View the draft amendment schedule at: www.hillsboroughcounty.org/index.aspx?nid=906.
 

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