Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Business

Development brings push and pull as residents, builders seek common ground

RECOMMENDED READING


VALRICO — They deemed it a dream development.

A 6-acre park, architectural input, several acres of landscaping buffers and limitations on time of day for deliveries.

The original design called for a standard Kash n' Karry grocery store at the corner of S.R. 60 and S. Miller Road in Valrico.

But when residents protested the Lowe's that would come with the grocer, the developer tried to acquiesce, meeting for months in the late 1990s with a local activist and Hillsborough County staff.

When the vote came before the Hillsborough County Commission, however, it wasn't enough, recalled Randall Gunn, corporate real estate representative for Kash n' Karry. Despite additions like the park, the activists seemed set on refusing any type of development, he said.

The board unanimously voted down the land-use change.

"Go to that intersection today and you see a run-of-the-mill, grocery-anchored shopping center," Gunn said. "No parks. No limitations on time of day for deliveries. Nothing special with the architecture. Who benefited? Who was looking out for the community as a whole?"

• • •

As the economy rebounds, land owners are again trying to turn empty pastures into lucrative real estate projects such as big box retail outlets and new subdivisions. The projects have drawn the ire of residents around the county, writing a new chapter on the age-old battle between residents who want to preserve a rural way of life and developers determined to bring change and commerce.

At least eight high-profile development disputes have garnered attention here in the past year and a half. Opposition to grocery stores, gas stations and apartments has swelled within communities.

Sometimes, that opposition isn't enough. A Family Dollar opened in Seminole Heights this year despite bitter dissent.

But Carrollwood residents have blocked two cases, one against Walmart, another against a cemetery.

"To me, it was a fundamental disconnect between what the property was, what the community was around it and what the developers wanted to do with it," said Leah Wooten, an organizing member who opposed rezoning for the Walmart.

This disconnect is the backbone of disputes, residents say.

Developers argue it's more complicated than that, with residents wanting growth as long as its "not in my backyard." They view the struggle from opposing perspectives, and some issues, like compatibility, are often in the eye of the beholder.

"There are competing interests," County Administrator Mike Merrill said. "Everyone wants jobs, everyone wants to have convenient businesses, but nobody wants them in their back yards. And I can understand that. So there's a facilitation and negotiation that has to happen early in the process."

• • •

Many of these cases read the same. In a David-and-Goliath narrative, the cash-strapped neighbors band together to fight the profit-seeking developers who don't care about the communities.

That stereotype, Gunn said, is unfair for developers who, more often than not, want to work with residents.

"A developer is a fool if they don't look at those issues," Gunn said. "You want to make things work and to be part of the neighborhood. You want business."

Often, citizens contest a proposal based on a combination of similar reasons: increased traffic, environmental impacts, safety concerns, noise and pollution, and disagreement over architecture and landscaping.

But despite the common framework of these disputes, the success rate for residents varies.

While social media, community involvement, media attention and skill level of the organizers all come in to play, one element seems to have the greatest effect on the outcome: timing.

"You've got to get in on the ground floor," Wooten said. "You've got to be there at the zoning board stage at the latest in order to make it work."

The county mailed notices about a developer's proposed major modification to bring about the Walmart. That required letter allowed them to mobilize, she said.

The county must notify registered neighborhood organizations within a one-mile radius of plan amendments and rezonings. Individual mail notice differs on whether it is in an urban or rural area. The county also places signs on the property and notices in the newspaper, said Melissa Zornitta, assistant executive director for the Hillsborough Planning Commission.

"Each step, things become more firm," Zornitta said. "Once you get beyond (zoning approval), it's even harder. "

• • •

Not every group is able to rally in time. Some, like those fighting the big box store east of the Bloomingdale Library, find themselves playing catchup, trying to undo approvals that have long since been settled. The change to the property in question didn't require notification of neighborhood associations because it was a text amendment to the plan.

"It's more frustrating when the zoning is finished," County Commissioner Al Higginbotham said. "Bloomingdale is one case. The zoning was done in 2003, and those guys have those entitlements or those rights whether we like it or not, and we can't go take it away. "

Still, some are more hopeful that agreements can be reached in which both sides are happy.

In the Carrollwood case, the developer, Brightworks Acquisition, is in talks with residents about what type of development would work best for the area. Though she couldn't share specifics, due to the fact that the lawsuit is ongoing, Wooten said that will likely manifest itself in light retail or a standalone restaurant.

"Of course, does Carrollwood need more restaurants? No," Wooten said. "But that's not our choice if they think they can make money off it . . . we are a commerce-driven society. You can't stop that, and I don't think we should. Better or worse, that's what America is."

• • •

While these disputes might be an unavoidable, inherent part of suburbia, Zornitta said the county planning commission is working to establish a long-range plan with community buy-in to avoid some of these conflicts.

"Having a plan doesn't mean we can resolve all conflicts," Zornitta said. "But we're looking to evolve and see how to get greater participation in these efforts."

The current county-wide plan emphasizes the majority of growth should go into areas surrounding one of the three cities or the county's defined urban growth sector, Zornitta said. Many of the conflicts arise when somebody wants to develop outside the urban boundary.

Even if a piece of land has been zoned for commercial development, often neighbors grow accustomed to a vacant piece of property and don't realize that open plot of land is designated for development.

For developers, it's about responsible negotiation and developing goodwill with the neighborhood associations, Gunn said.

"Every developer should sit down and should try to work with the community, but it's when the neighborhood dictates, 'These are the only businesses we'll accept,' that's when it becomes too much," Gunn said. "I don't know any developer who wouldn't want to put something in to try to make things work. There's just a limit."

• • •

In hopes of getting greater community participation, the planning commission launched imagine2040.org, an online resource for residential input.

Typically, 30 to 50 people attended public meetings. Alternatively, the website yielded more than 3,500 responses.

But greater community input isn't enough, Merrill said.

"Part of it is also changing the land-use process itself, to make it more user-friendly, to really make it more equitable and fair and not give anybody any sort of advantage one way or another," he said.

Merrill described the county as being at "a tipping point." People are frustrated because they are dealing with the results of past planning that didn't go so well, he said. It's hard to change what's already in the ground while also allowing for continued growth.

"As we go forward we don't want to make it worse," Merrill said. "It really comes back to being more sensitive to what folks need. Not everybody is going to be happy, but finding some common ground is really what we need."

Caitlin Johnston may be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443.

Comments
A new threat this shopping season: toys that can spy on kids

A new threat this shopping season: toys that can spy on kids

ST. PETERSBURG — Not all sinister toys are as obvious as a Chucky doll. Many present more subtle threats — choking hazards, high lead content, privacy concerns. And as the biggest shopping season of the year kicks off, consumer advocates are urging s...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Copa Airlines to fly daily nonstop from Tampa to Panama next summer

Copa Airlines to fly daily nonstop from Tampa to Panama next summer

TAMPA — Panama’s Copa Airlines, which four years ago became the first airline to offer service between Panama and Tampa Bay, said it is increasing its nonstop service between Tampa International Airport and Panama City to daily flights starting in Ju...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Irma did not stop tourists from setting record visits to Florida so far in 2017

Irma did not stop tourists from setting record visits to Florida so far in 2017

Despite Hurricane Irma, Florida hit another record high number in tourists visiting the state in the first nine months of this year, according to figures released this week.Visit Florida, the state’s tourism bureau, said 88.2 million visitors came to...
Updated: 4 hours ago
FCC chairman unveils proposal to repeal net neutrality

FCC chairman unveils proposal to repeal net neutrality

WASHINGTON — Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai on Tuesday followed through on his pledge to repeal 2015 regulations designed to ensure that internet service providers treat all online content and apps equally, setting up a showdown ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Crime Stoppers, Straz Foundation still working out Seminole Heights reward money

Crime Stoppers, Straz Foundation still working out Seminole Heights reward money

TAMPA — You can collect $110,000 in reward money for information leading to an arrest in the Seminole Heights killings, but for now you’ll have to make two stops.The David A. Straz Foundation announced Monday it would contribute $10,000 to a reward f...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Barricades reinforce security for holiday events on St. Petersburg’s downtown waterfront

Barricades reinforce security for holiday events on St. Petersburg’s downtown waterfront

Times Staff Writer ST. PETERSBURG — World and national tragedies are changing the city’s approach to security for special events at North Straub Park.With the approach of the holidays, concrete barricades have been erected at a section of the park’s ...
Published: 11/21/17
Ybor ’s first public school, long gone, still has a story to tell about district’s history

Ybor ’s first public school, long gone, still has a story to tell about district’s history

TAMPA — It’s been more than a century since Ybor City’s first public school was demolished on the plot of land now identified as 1311 E. Eighth Ave.For the past 22 years, the popular concert venue New World Brewery took up the space and one next door...
Published: 11/21/17
Hurricane Irma hurt some Tampa Bay home sales even in October

Hurricane Irma hurt some Tampa Bay home sales even in October

Pinellas County home sales took another hurricane-related hit in October as the rest of the Tampa Bay area bounced back from Hurricane Irma.But while prices in all four counties rose once again, the rate of increase continues to slow. Hillsborough’s...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Up for sale? Activist investor grabs stake in Tampa’s Bloomin’ Brands

Up for sale? Activist investor grabs stake in Tampa’s Bloomin’ Brands

TAMPA — If you tread water too long in the same spot, someone might start asking why you’re not trying to swim somewhere.Tampa’s Bloomin’ Brands — parent company of such prominent restaurant chains as Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill and ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
St. Petersburg council okays restaurant deal for Manhattan Casino

St. Petersburg council okays restaurant deal for Manhattan Casino

ST. PETERSBURG — The City Council on Monday approved a lease for the Manhattan Casino, a landmark building in the city’s historic African-American business and entertainment community.It was a controversial decision for some of the city’s black resid...
Updated: 8 hours ago