Commission delays vote on I-4 Green Tech Corridor

The controversial plan to bring commercial development to an area along Interstate 4 was again delayed last week for further study.

County commissioners stressed, however, that the proposed I-4 Green Tech Corridor, which would stretch 30 miles from Temple Terrace to Polk County, will most likely be approved.

"I think we are close, but we're not quite there yet," said chairman Ken Hagan at a nearly four-hour public hearing May 6. "I would encourage everyone to stay engaged."

Antigrowth activists rail against the plan because of the impact on the surrounding community and because they say it will create urban sprawl.

"This is nothing more than a needless expansion of the urban service area into a huge area that's now rural," said activist Mariella Smith from the Tampa Bay Sierra Club. "We know the difference between green and green-washing."

Commissioners said Tampa Bay needs this project to compete in biomedical and green industries.

"Growth along these corridors is going to take place," Commissioner Mark Sharpe said. "If by 2060, growth along this corridor is going to be completely saturated, what's that growth going to look like?"

The commissioners described themselves as a "pro-business" group.

"This is not Mayberry down there. It's just not," Commissioner Jim Norman said. "It's an opportunity. If you can't start with this, my gosh, where are you going to start?"

In April the Planning Commission nearly cut the project's size in half from almost 12,000 acres originally planned in the rural "green tech expansion area" to 5,860 acres in an attempt to mitigate the community concerns.

Hillsborough principal planner Heather Lamboy said she expects the project to bring the area 12,349 jobs, each paying about $50,000 a year.

Commissioners voted 6-0 to send the proposal back to the county's Planning Commission for more research. Their main concerns: potential transportation headaches on already overworked roads and an 80-acre minimum requirement for developers in green tech expansion areas.

The more than 5,000 acres in question are on rural land without urban services, like water, sewer and transportation. Costs for those amenities would be left to developers, though details about when they would be required to pay — or pay back the county — were not clear.

Lamboy said the 80-acre minimum was chosen because it would attract companies that can afford to pay for those services. It would also prevent the area from filling with a disjointed smattering of smaller structures, Lamboy said.

The rest of the project, about 18,940 acres, encompasses "permit-ready" sites within Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City.

The minimum acreage in Plant City is 5 acres, and the minimum in Tampa city limits is 1 acre. Developments in the county's urban service area — locations outside city limits with available water, sewer and transportation — are limited to a minimum of 20 acres.

Commissioners questioned whether an 80-acre minimum was appropriate for the green tech expansion area. Sharpe mentioned Google as a example of a powerful company that wouldn't necessarily need that much space.

Lamboy said some exceptions to the 80-acre requirement would likely be permissible.

Commissioner Kevin Beckner said he also worried about the impact on roads near the interstate, such as U.S. 92, that may not be sturdy enough to handle an influx of heavy traffic.

DOT spokeswoman Kris Carson said the department supports the project but that officials want to work with the county to develop a specific transportation plan to accommodate the inevitable increased traffic.

The Planning Commission will review the project with its newest amendments before it goes back before the County Commission.

The next Planning Commission public hearing is June 9. Lamboy said she hopes to have some of the commission's concerns addressed by then. "We have a pretty tight turnaround," she said.

A hearing before the commissioners will likely be held in July or the beginning of August. Once commissioners accept the plan with its final amendments, it will be sent to the state's Department of Community Affairs for approval.

Kim Wilmath can be reached at (813) 661-2442 or kwilmath@sptimes.com.

Commission delays vote on I-4 Green Tech Corridor 05/13/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 12, 2010 2:58pm]

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