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HCC gets a lesson in being a good Ybor City neighbor

Appropriately enough, there may be a lesson in the tale of the tussle between the community college and the community in which it sits — one about being a good neighbor, because you never know when you might need one yourself.

Hillsborough Community College planned to build a $14 million, 63,000-square-foot student services center on its Ybor City campus, calling its contemporary design "incredibly attractive."

Maybe so, but it didn't look very Ybor City.

If you have been to Ybor, you know Tampa's historic Latin quarter and restaurant-and-club mecca is blessed with grand old buildings, balconies and brick that reflect its rich cultural roots. A board called the Barrio Latino Commission is responsible for preserving that history and watchdogging what its calls Ybor's "architectural integrity."

In Ybor, hotels and parking garages have been built to look like they belong. McDonald's, even.

So, some people in Ybor did not like HCC's plans. They called it disrespectful of history and wondered why neighbors hadn't been taken into consideration more before construction started.

And how could this possibly pass muster with the barrio board?

It doesn't have to, HCC said.

State rules exempted it from local building codes, it contended, as in: You're not the boss of me, Barrio Latino Commission. At one point, a spokeswoman for the college offered up this unfortunate quote: "They're going to have to figure out a way to deal with the fact that it's new construction," they being neighborhood naysayers.

Whether the school was indeed exempt or had to follow the rules like everyone else was in dispute. There was even talk of seeking an opinion from the state attorney general.

For the record, it should be noted that the Barrio Latino Commission does not have a reputation for being a pushover. The board's job is to keep Ybor looking like Ybor, so proving you have a "hardship," financial or otherwise, that keeps you from being able to follow the rules on your property there can be tough.

Finally, the mayor and the president of HCC got together and agreed that school designs should be subject to review by the city's historic preservation staff, but not the Barrio Latino Commission. HCC came around with some Ybor-esque concessions for the new building, and good for it.

"It's not pretty," opines Patrick Manteiga, editor of Ybor's La Gaceta trilingual newspaper and member of the Cuban Club, a close HCC neighbor. "But it's getting closer."

Now for the kicker.

Turns out the plans for the new student services center would make the building about 18 feet above the city's 45-foot height limit.

To build it to the planned four stories — maybe even to put a roof on it at three — the college would have to ask for, and get, a variance.

From? You guessed it.

The Barrio Latino Commission.

The school may or may not be subject to its overall review, but that board is from whence any height waiver would have to come.

So for now, a partially built school building sits idle in Ybor City. HCC is evaluating its options, and maybe also what makes for good neighbors.

And maybe there's the moral to the story.

HCC gets a lesson in being a good Ybor City neighbor 05/05/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 5, 2009 9:10pm]
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