RUSKIN — Ideas are starting to come forward at meetings concerning the new county-proposed overlay for properties with frontage along the 8-mile stretch of U.S. 41 between Big Bend Road and the Little Manatee River Bridge.
But they’re really preliminary and are coming from a small committee of volunteers who have attended planning meetings.
All residents of Apollo Beach and Ruskin now have a chance to submit their views either by survey online or at a future planning meeting.
“Property and business owners who own along the roadway are especially encouraged to speak out,” said county planner Jose Fernandez at a meeting at the SouthShore Regional Library July 19.
Fernandez was one of five county staffers present at the meeting which was scheduled to get an idea of what residents and business owners want fronting U.S. 41 in their communities.
When asked to briefly explain the purpose of an “overlay” in an interview following the meeting, Fernandez said it is “a set of additional developmental standards for a certain area to achieve the community preferences and desires in a certain area.”
The county has several overlay districts in effect now that have accomplished just that, he said.
“We want to make sure the public knows an overlay does not take away any existing property rights, uses, densities or intensities already in effect,” Fernandez continued. “We want to see what people would like to see preserved, changed and created (new).”
The attendees at the meeting divided into two groups, one for Apollo Beach and the other for Ruskin, individually filling out three surveys and then discussing them in roundtable fashion before combining and prioritizing their goals onto one sheet for each community.
Improving the appearance of the highway was one of the main objectives of the Community Plans made several years ago when Hillsborough County planners worked with residents to find out what they wanted in their neighborhood’s future.
“We found they wanted to improve the appearance of the corridor, promote community identity and promote economic development and redevelopment,” Fernandez said.
July 21, planners put the same survey taken at the recent meeting online. One for Ruskin and one for Apollo Beach. They can be found at http://www.hillsboroughcounty.org/pgm/zoning/cpiongoing/us41.cfm.
County planners are hoping many people will fill out the surveys online before the next planning meeting, which is scheduled for Aug. 25 at 6 p.m.
They expect the planning process for the overlay to last about eight months before planners make recommendations to County Commissioners who will make the final decision on what will occur.
The overlay has nothing to do with the widening of U.S. 41 being done by the Florida Department of Transportation.
“In an overlay, generally areas have regulated architectural design and features, signage, landscaping and buffers,” Fernandez said.
But those factors are not set in stone and the county realizes U.S. 41 in Apollo Beach differs greatly from U.S. 41 in Ruskin, said planner John Healey who has worked on plans in South County for many years.
There was a consensus that U.S. 41 acts as a major roadway through Apollo Beach while Apollo Beach Boulevard is considered the community’s hub, but Ruskin U.S. 41 is actually the town’s main street. “This makes a huge difference in what people want to see happen,” Fernandez said.
So the two groups, one for each community, separated and began to dig into what preservation, change and creating something new can actually accomplish.
County staff pointed out that in the overlay, the definition of these three key points is this: preservation is maintaining and protecting; creating is bringing something in that is not there today and change means to fix something that is present but not currently working for, or pleasing to, residents.
The group talking about Apollo Beach included Michael Peterson, Barbara Compton, Joel Meek and David McDaniel who listed preservation of the landscaping and frontage of major developments like Mira Bay and South Shore Falls, community signs, sidewalks green medians, commercial clusters, and keeping the community look and feel provided by icons that included the Ruskin Drive In and the vegetable stand south of the commercial area of Apollo Beach.
As for new ideas, they brought up a park-and-ride lot, wider walking and biking trails, landscape that could provide better buffers, and new signs marking the entrances to the community at Big Bend Road to the north and 19th Avenue to the south.
Changes of existing elements included screening of open storage, mobile homes and car lots, modernizing Flamingo Plaza and including covered and benched bus stops.
Ruskin talked mainly about preserving the historic nature of neighborhoods and buildings like the Ruskin Woman’s Club.
“Let’s be sure and keep the historic places and hometown look,” said Sam Cook.
The group agreed they did not want to lose their four-lane traffic flow on U.S. 41. (Years ago in planning workshops some had suggested bringing that down to two lanes to make it more like a small town and encourage shops along the highway.)
Putting all utilities underground was an idea brought up by Tom Grimm but he admitted that would be up to the utility companies and almost impossible to include in a plan unless they agreed.
“Every corridor is different. We have to work with what is appropriate,” Fernandez said.
He said the county would be checking out the regulations associated with the Florida Department of Transportation as the plan moved forward.
“The most important thing now is for residents to visit the Website, read the brochure about the overlay, fill out the online survey and come to the meetings,” Fernandez said.
They are also welcome to call him at 813-307-3435 with their questions.