BALM — For some, it means the chance to take a stand for rural lifestyles in a community where "master-planned development" means the owner of a 5-acre homestead decides where to put the house, fence and barn.
For others, it's an opportunity to press for zoning changes that could replace the cattle stomping grounds with suburban-style subdivisions.
Work on the long-awaited community plan for this rural pocket of southeastern Hillsborough kicked off last week with an open house at the Balm Civic Center.
At least 30 people trickled in and out Jan. 27, looking at maps and charts provided by the Hillsborough County Planning Commission. Many signed up to be on the advisory committee that will help draft the plan.
The community's future is the subject of debate, even among family members.
Aaron Long of Ruskin runs cattle on most of his nearly 400 acres in the middle of the designated planning area. He said he'd like to see higher density than the single house per 5 acres currently allowed because he figures it would be easier and more profitable to sell his land.
Planners said the county recently added a provision to allow an average of two homes per acre in an urban-style cluster development if the developer has at least 160 acres and can meet other criteria.
"I would like to see density increase," Long said. "But I'm not pressing for that."
His daughter, Donna Driggers, lives on 5 acres near Vriesenga Road.
"We like it the way it is," she said. She referred to a map showing the Ayersworth Glen subdivision, with sidewalks and clubhouse, at U.S. 301 and County Road 672 on the western edge of Balm.
"We don't want this," Driggers said, pointing to Ayersworth and then moving her hand slightly west, "over here in Balm."
The 10-square-mile planning area displayed last week is a suggested designation north and east of the Wimauma Community Plan tract that was completed a few years ago. It is roughly bounded by U.S. 301 on the west, CR 672 on the north, Carlton Lake Road on the east and Wimauma on the south. Lisa Silva, the Planning Commission's project manager for Balm, said those boundaries could be expanded if residents desire.
Data charts show that Balm has a higher poverty level than Hillsborough County at large. About 20 percent of Balm households have income below the federal poverty level, compared to 12 percent countywide.
A land-use chart projected that Balm will see a dramatic shift from farms to residential neighborhoods in the next 20 years, with agriculture declining from 35 percent to 3 percent and residential use climbing from 15 percent to nearly 70 percent.
Marcella O'Steen, president of the Balm Civic Association and a proponent of keeping the community rural, said that's a possibility, not a certainty.
She said she was happy to see work begin on the community plan for Balm, one of the last parts of the county to start a process that's intended to give local residents a say in the future of their neighborhoods.
"Our day has finally come, and I'm hopeful we can get a good plan by local people," O'Steen said.
Still to come are Lithia-Valrico, an area around Plant City and a third section in the remote southeast corner of the county.