RUSKIN — Owners of large stretches of industrial-zoned property fronting U.S. 41 in Ruskin and Apollo Beach say the new rules proposed by the county in conjunction with the U.S. 41 Zoning Overlay Working Committee are fine for residences and retail stores but will keep industry out of South County.
The Overlay will put an extra layer of zoning regulations on all property fronting U.S. 41 between Big Bend Road and the Little Manatee River Bridge and is part of the on-going effort to implement the Ruskin and Apollo Beach Community Plans.
Meetings have been held every month for nine months and working committees for both communities have been involved, voting on standards they think would be beneficial to their communities.
In the beginning of the meetings nine months ago, county staff, led by planners Jose Fernandez and John Healey, two working groups were formed, one for Ruskin and the other for Apollo Beach, because the two communities were so different.
The maps now show three distinct groups, based on the usage of U.S. 41.
Area 1 is between Big Bend Road and 19th Avenue in Ruskin.
Area 2 is between 19th Avenue and College Avenue
Area 3 is between College Avenue and the Little Manatee River Bridge.
But the county recognizes there is already a group working on Ruskin’s downtown (from 19th Avenue to College) so it is not working on that area in this Overlay.
“We recognize that there is already a plan for Ruskin’s downtown in the making,” Fernandez said. “We don’t want to duplicate efforts. And we also recognize that U.S. 41 is similar in the Apollo Beach area and the area south of Ruskin’s downtown.”
That is because those two areas are used as a “traffic corridor” while U.S. 41 in Ruskin is a “Main Street.”
Encouraging slowing down and stopping to shop in downtown Ruskin is one of the goals of the plan while maintaining a good traffic flow is a high priority in the other two areas of the Overlay.
During the nine months of meetings, sizes and types of signs; parking lot design; (new and expanded); building design; landscaping and fencing have been examined, voted upon and are now being put into language that will define the plan.
Only certain types of signs and fencing will be permitted, and the rules say property owners must plant a shade tree every thirty feet along the highway.
Now that the series of meetings are over, county staff must take residents’ wishes and develop the language of the Overlay which will be presented at an Open House for more input and then taken to County Commissioners for a vote.
Hearing no exception for industrial zoning, and being told “they would address that later,” worries owners of industrial sites that exist in the Overlay area..
“If we’re held to the same standards, it will definitely cost hundreds of jobs,” said Noel Andress, owner of Sunmark Realty based in Pineland. He owns 6,000 square feet in the area of the overlay; 3,000 on U.S. 41 and 3,000 on Big Bend Road.
“The way it is being proposed, if you have land attached to the frontage along U.S. 41, that land must also be brought up to the standards of the Overlay. What I’m saying is that that will cost too much and make bringing in new industry to that area impossible. It’s already an industrial site- I mean, just look at the smokestacks, that won’t ever be anything but industrial. There won’t be hotels or tourist attractions there.”
Andress made that statement at the final of nine working committee meetings Feb 21 at the South Shore Regional Library.
If rules of the overlay are adopted for industry as well as residences and retail, he says it will cost too much for anyone to develop industrial property and even if they do, plant security would be compromised by the overlay standards concerning fencing.
Andress expounded his answers in an interview following the meeting to say the beautification required would not only be of no value to industries that might want to locate there, but would also cost close to a million extra dollars on just one parcel that he himself owns.
In an interview the next day David McDaniel of Titan Properties based in Winter Park who represents Pacific Tomato Growers on U.S. 41 in Apollo Beach, McDaniel fully explained the points he had made during the meeting.
“Factories and manufacturing companies have to have secure fences – some even with barbed wire on top- because they need them. Theft and safety are compromised in an industrial area when the only reason a fence is put up is for aesthetic value. And to have a regulation that says you have to have a shade tree- like an oak- every 30 feet is fine for a homeowner or small business owner but adds thousands of dollars in original costs and then there’s the added maintenance industrial plants don’t need. They need to be spending their money creating the things their factories were built to manufacture.”
It comes down to jobs- jobs- jobs, he said.
At the meeting, Michael Peterson, who has been part of South County’s community planning for about 20 years, suggested incentives be given to industrial companies to take part in the plan.
“Maybe exempt them from some taxes for three years following their compliance. Or some other kind of break so we can maintain the standards but still encourage industry and development,” Peterson said.
The language of the plan will be unveiled at an Open House which will be held at the South Shore Library March 27 at 6 p.m.
Fernandez and Healey said they will once again notify the more than 400 land owners whose properties front U.S. 41 in the overlay area.
So far, only about 50 people have attended the meetings and working groups despite notification.
To find out more about the plan or read about any of the meetings already held, visit http://www.hillsboroughcounty.org/pgm/zoning/cpoiongoing/US41.cfm or look at previous coverage in the archives at www.observernews.net.