July 30, 2008

South Side’s Look Up For Discussion

By Yvette C. Hammett, Tampa Tribune, Fla.

Jul. 30--RUSKIN -- Environmentalists and longtime homeowners continued their call last week for a community plan south of the Little Manatee River that would keep their area rural and protect natural areas from dense development.

And big land owners and their representatives continued to voice their concerns over any changes that would result in a loss of private property rights.

The South Side Community Plan committee met at the SouthShore Regional Library July 22 and plans to meet again Aug. 24 to develop a plan for what they believe their area should look like in the future.

A group of 30 to 40 has been working for several months on the plan, which encompasses land south of the Little Manatee River to the Manatee County line, including large tracts of undeveloped and agricultural lands, historical Sun City and Sundance, an equestrian community.

For some, the South Side vision includes protecting the wild animals, native plants and waterways that make southern Hillsborough County a special place.

"White ibis have a great foothold here and nest on the shoreline here," said environmental activist Mariella Smith, who called for a closer look at what is designated "significant wildlife habitat" in Hillsborough County.

"A big chunk of Florida's white ibis nest here and feed their young from freshwater ponds within 15 miles of the coast." Protecting every freshwater wetland in the area should be a priority, she said.

Gus Muench, a longtime blue-crabber and Ruskin community activist, called on the planning committee to endorse his proposal for a volunteer steering committee to oversee the Cockroach Bay area. With so many agencies overseeing the bay and surrounding properties, he said, there is no cohesiveness.

But some fear that could be yet another layer of government that would interfere with private property rights.

Land-use attorney Mike Peterson said the county's Comprehensive Land-Use Plan already identifies the Cockroach Bay area as a "special place." A volunteer oversight committee would have no teeth, anyway, he said.

"Any time you put something on a map, it could change the value of the land or what can be done there," said James Payne, who is involved with a group of property owners who call themselves the South Side Land Owners Coalition.

The coalition is made up of about a dozen members who own 5,000 acres in the South Side area. Citing poor economic conditions with agriculture, coalition members are considering their options, including asking the county to rezone property so they can sell it for development.

Right now, the zoning allows for one house on every five acres. Coalition members are floating the idea of asking for two houses per acre, a 10-fold increase in density in an area outside the urban service area.

So far, though, no formal proposal has been introduced, said principal planner Pedro Parra of the Hillsborough County Planning Commission.

In October, the committee will begin to devise strategies that will help the community achieve the plan's goals.

A community plan typically takes about a year to complete, Parra said. The county commission must approve the final document.

Reporter Yvette C. Hammett can be reached at (813) 865-1566 or [email protected]


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