Community planners may pioneer a new approach locally

Published on: February 15, 2012

Pedro Parra

Pedro Parra


Considering application of a still novel approach, citizen community planners in the Little Manatee River area may chart new ground as they move into a second phase aimed at creating guidelines for future development south of Ruskin.

 If they apply the concepts of SmartCode as part of their community planning, Phase II, the group that hashed out various aspects of their Little Manatee South plan to reach agreement by consensus just two years ago will generate this time a situation unique among the eight South County communities which have completed plans designed to guide development of their areas in future decades.

About 25 Sun City and Sundance area residents along with representatives of owners holding substantial acreages for future development sat down last week with Pedro Parra, a professional planner on  The Planning Commission staff, to discuss pros and cons of SmartCode, one of the latest innovations in the world of plan making, as they embark on a continuation of their planning process. 

Of the eight South County plans completed and added to Hillsborough’s Comprehensive Plan over the last 10 years, two communities – Riverview and Ruskin – have continued the process to produce, in addition, downtown business district concepts that ultimately became part also of the county’s land use code.  In so doing, the two communities further defined key geographic locations in their plans and enhanced applicable rezoning restrictions.

The Little Manatee South planners now are moving in a similar direction, but with a few twists.

A nine-member implementation group composed of mixed Little Manatee South local homeowners and large acreage holders has asked The Planning Commission professionals for help in getting a follow-up process in place that would include use of SmartCode.  Unlike the additional phases in the Ruskin and Riverview planning, the second LMS phase would involve engagement of a consultant expert in such finely-tuned planning at an estimated cost of $180,000.   Like the Ruskin and Riverview outcomes, the completed LMS, Phase II, would be aimed at inclusion in the land development code.   

SmartCode, originally fashioned by the firm of Andres Duany, an internationally renowned but forcefully aggressive and sometimes disputed community planning professional, is defined as a unified land development template for planning and urban design.  Duany, known for designing many award-winning communities, including Seaside, Florida, was engaged as a Hillsborough County consultant several years ago to assist with producing the Apollo Beach community plan which was done by the charette method in a matter of weeks.  Some AB residents still complain today that their plan is defective.      

The SmartCode approach folds zoning, subdivision regulations, urban design and basic architectural standards into a single compact document.  It is a form-based code rather than a use-based code, emphasizing more the control of form, with lesser emphasis on controlling land uses.  Urban form features regulated under SmartCode include lot widths, block sizes, building setbacks, building heights, location of parking, placement of buildings on lots, and the like.  

While conventional zoning categories are based on different land uses, SmartCode zones are based on rural-urban characteristics and designed to create complete human habitats.  A Duany principle has been that cities and towns should be composed of series of walkable neighborhoods. Some mixed uses are allowed in all SmartCode categories. SmartCode is designed to be “calibrated” by professional planners, architects and attorneys.

Cities that have adopted SmartCode include Petaluma, California, for its downtown district in 2003, the City of Miami citywide in 2010, and Montgomery, Alabama, as a parallel option to its conventional zoning code during the same decade.

Not all members among the LMS citizen planners have been completely supportive of the Phase II planning process prospect. Ralph Greenlee, a Sundance resident active in its HOA, raised several concerns last week.  He questioned whether funds for the consultant could be raised in the present economic conditions and suggested that only consensus agreement would be the satisfactory standard imposed in the second phase of planning.

Responses came from Will Redd, the implementation group chairman as well as representative for Deseret Farms, an agricultural arm of the Mormon Church which holds considerable acreage in the area, and from Parra.   Redd told the group and Parra that he believes the estimated funding needed in the $180,000 neighborhood could be managed.  And Parra said after the session that the funds would be forwarded to the county administration which, in turn, would issue requests for proposals from a list of knowledgeable consultants, eventually engaging the consultant to work with the citizen planners through requested changes to the land use code stemming from the second phase of planning.    

As for applying consensus as a method for attaining agreement, Parra explained that the objective in Phase II planning would be ensuring consistency with the community’s plan as drafted, approved and adopted.  Consensus was appropriate for reaching mutual acceptance among the citizens involved in initial planning, he noted, but could not be mandated as a standard when the different objective of ensuring consistency with what already has been agreed to is the desired result.    

The group is expected to reassemble for continued discussion in mid-March. 

Copyright 2012 Melody Jameson