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Planning Targets Green Spaces

July 15, 2008

By Susan M. Green, Tampa Tribune, Fla.

Jul. 15–RUSKIN — Protective buffers and better public access for wilderness parks were among ideas floated last week when local residents met to discuss a growth plan for the southwest corner of Hillsborough County.

About 40 people turned out for a South Side Community Plan meeting targeting environmental resources, the best turnout so far for the group’s planning meetings, said Pedro Parra, principal planner with the Hillsborough County Planning Commission, who organized the meeting.

Environment Part 2 will be the topic of another South Side meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the SouthShore Regional Library, 15816 Beth Shields Way.

Forest Turbiville, who oversees a Hillsborough County Parks, Recreation and Conservation section that manages environmentally sensitive land, said county officials are considering adopting regulations that will require buffers between new subdivisions and preservation tracts.

“That’s something we’re going to be seriously considering in the future,” he said. “It’s very difficult to do a prescribed burn in some areas.”

People who buy into subdivisions bordering preservation areas already receive notification of such land management practices as periodic prescribed burns and herbicide spraying, Turbiville said.

Peg Knowles of Ruskin, co-chairwoman of the South Side committee, asked about improving access to publicly owned parcels.

“You’ve got to hop fences,” she said. “It’s so overgrown that most people won’t attempt to go in there.”

Generally, county-owned preservation areas are open to the public for hiking, Turbiville said. A few also offer horseback or mountain bike-riding opportunities.

But funding has been limited for expenses such as parking and maintenance, especially on sites acquired long ago, Turbiville said. The county’s taxpayer-funded Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program has been geared more toward buying land to save it from development.

Some ELAPP tax revenue can be used for initial capital improvements, including fencing and building a parking lot, when a tract is purchased. Turbiville said county finance officials, responding to a call for big budget cuts attributed to property tax reform, are examining whether other ELAPP money can be used for ongoing operations.

County officials expect to finish a management plan for Wolf Branch Creek Nature Preserve next year, he said. Other preservation tracts in the South Side area, including Cockroach Bay, Cockroach Creek, Bullfrog Creek and the Little Manatee River tracts, have management plans that specify what activities are allowed.

Participants also heard about a planning process for a federally funded road that would link Port Manatee to Interstate 75.

Mark Callahan, a consultant working on an environmental impact study for the project, said planners are aware of the vast acreage set aside for preservation just north of the Hillsborough-Manatee county line.

Routes being eyed most keenly are south of the county line, he said. But the study area includes a portion of Hillsborough, extending to about 700 feet north of Valroy Road.

Callahan outlined a three-year study timetable expected to include a public hearing on recommendations in the fall of 2010. A public workshop will be held next spring, and other public meetings may be scheduled, he said.

Upcoming environmental topics for the planning group include parcels that could be nominated for ELAPP acquisition and a proposal from crabber Gus Muench to designate the Cockroach Bay Aquatic Preserve as a marine sanctuary.

Recommendations from the South Side Community Plan committee will go to county commissioners for consideration, probably by early 2010. If adopted, they become part of the county’s comprehensive plan for guiding future development.

The planning area is south of the Little Manatee River. Most people who have shown interest live west of U.S. 301, but residents east of the highway are welcome, Parra said

For information about the planning effort, call Parra, (813) 273-3774, ext. 356, or e-mail .

Reporter Susan M. Green can be reached at (813) 865-1566 or sgreen@tampatrib.com.

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