TAMPA — For now, the project that developers said would bring thousands of jobs in green technology to a rural stretch of Hillsborough County is dead.
In a surprising end to months of debate, county commissioners last week rejected the controversial I-4 Green Tech Corridor plan, which would have opened 30 miles of rural land along Interstate 4 to development.
The idea was prompted by a 2008 county development study and aimed at attracting companies in the biomedical and green technology fields.
The project failed on a 3-3 tie. Chairman Ken Hagan and Commissioners Kevin White and Rose Ferlita voted against the plan, while Mark Sharpe, Al Higginbotham and Jim Norman voted for it. Kevin Beckner was absent.
"I'm almost speechless," community activist Marcella O'Steen said afterward. "I'm grateful and thrilled."
Hordes of activists and residents showed up in protest at the July 22 meeting. They were specifically against developing the rural land beside I-4 and said they were not opposed to development within urban service areas.
Several held back tears as they addressed the board.
"I ask you to think about us who live out there because we want to live out there," said Michelle O'Connor, 44, of Seffner. "What about us?"
Former Tampa City Council member Linda Saul-Sena, who is running for a County Commission seat, also called for the proposal's rejection. "Listen to your citizens," Saul-Sena said.
Sharpe voiced approval of the plan before the vote. He said it was important to plan for future growth, even if it doesn't happen for decades, rather than allowing expansion to continue without organization.
"Doing nothing is easier, and I think that even having the conversation has been a challenge," Sharpe said. "But I would prefer to have the battles and have the conversation than just sit back in our camps because what we end up with then is sprawl."
White disagreed, raising his voice and addressing the audience. "I believe that our current economy is going to dictate where the growth will go from this point on," he said. "I just think this is an impediment on the rural lifestyle that you have chosen to live."
The debate about the idea began two years ago, when commissioners requested a study of development along I-4. The project that emerged was supposed to bring 12,349 jobs.
It was immediately met with opposition from nearby residents.
Those against it worried about urban sprawl and cluttering open land with buildings and parking lots. They said calling the plan "green" was meaningless.
The plan continued on, with the Planning Commission twice delivering approval recommendations to county commissioners and commissioners postponing a vote for more study.
At one point, the most rural portion of the project was downsized from 12,000 to 5,860 acres.
Businesses developing in that area would have been responsible for the initial infrastructure and service costs, but would have received regulatory fee and tax breaks.
The rest of the project, about 18,940 acres, encompassed "permit-ready" sites in Tampa, south of Temple Terrace and Plant City.
Heather Lamboy, the Planning Commission's point person on the project, said she hopes there's a way to move forward with at least sites carved out in the urban areas of Tampa and Plant City.
Assistant County Attorney Adam Gormley said the plan's failure before the County Commission would not preclude development in those city limits. But what happens next is up to those jurisdictions.
The plan as a whole cannot be considered by county commissioners again until at least next year, based on community plan amendment rules, Gormley said.
A version of this story appeared in other editions of the Times. Kim Wilmath can be reached at (813) 661-2442 or email@example.com.