BALM — Before and beyond all else, this community’s citizens planners want to keep and continue its rural character.
From its lengthy history through its guiding goals and strategies to its envisioned future, their emphasis during the months dedicated to creating documents intended to become part of Hillsborough’s land use code consistently has been on open space preservation, agriculture, low density housing. This strong inclination is demonstrated frequently in the language use and stated objectives as the planners have referred to their “pedestrian friendly village” or “hamlet” as well as to protection of natural assets and creation of equestrian trails.
The multiple components of their formal community plan in draft form are coming together now, being readied for display during an open house set for August 7 when the community at large will have opportunity to review, judge, and comment as they enjoy light refreshments made in local kitchens.
The settlement of Balm began to take shape in the late 19th century as pioneering families cleared land, built initial housing, planted crops and established cattle herds. The first few years after turn of the century brought a rudimentary railroad station, the Harley Sweat general store, a post office, the Baptist church, a blacksmith. In short order, saw milling and turpentine collection would join farming, ranching, and vegetable packing as local industries.
Other crops and different means of making livings from the land have replaced those first endeavors, but the lifestyle remains a priority for descendants of those pioneers and newcomers alike. In fact, the first of the planners’ eight goals identified in their drafted outline is “to maintain and preserve the rural and agrarian characteristics, atmosphere and quality of life” evolving from that era, including the “strong neighborhood ties, faith-based organizations, and rural low density land use designations.”
A second goal calls for community infrastructure improvements such as multi-modal pathways, greenway corridors and equestrian trails. Successive objectives deal with keeping, supporting and expanding various types of agricultural activity, plus preservation and acquisition of existing and new open spaces and, in addition, concentrating on precious historic landmarks such as their century-old, continually-operating post office.
Yet another goal pertains to local law enforcement and “effective services to prevent the continued occurrence of crime throughout Balm” in order to maintain a safe, secure community.
From these objectives, the advisory planning group also distilled an immediate “action plan” of three items seen as particularly important and achievable. First on the list is implementation of the existing policies – part of the Future Land Use Element – that call for countywide rural design guidelines. The second action priority is cementing a partnership with the county’s parks and recreation department to enhance accessibility to the preservation area known as the Balm Scrub, plus creation of community gateway signage.
The community’s proposed vision statement, written from a 2035 perspective and describing a Balm with many of the goals achieved, refers to its “rustic atmosphere” maintained as Sweat Loop has been widened to accommodate biking lanes and increasingly popular equestrian ridership along with riding trails mean residents can get to the hamlet or Balm Park on horseback. Eco-tourism sites, community gardens and a large farmers’ market have become prosperous attractions. This Balm hamlet business district, architecturally preserving the “old Florida flavor,” is a mix of commercial, retail and community service establishments, including restaurants, a country store, a bed and breakfast inn, the historic post office and a sheriff’s sub-station.
The comments of citizens inspecting the various stations where pieces of the draft plan are exhibited during the August open house, coupled with the reviews by various county agencies looking over the proposed community plan, will help finalize the plan when the advisory group meets again in September, said Lisa Silva, senior planner with The Planning Commission. The final draft then is expected to be part of the next county land use code amendment cycle beginning in October, she added.
The open house on Tuesday, August 7, is scheduled for 5:30 to 7 PM in the Balm Community Center.
Copyright 2012 Melody Jameson