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Interstate 4 economic corridor study still lacks specifics

TAMPA — The goal: attract biomedical and green industries with jobs that pay well.

But after more than a year of meetings, details of a plan to develop land along Interstate 4 are still in the works.

And with a specific study area yet to be identified in what's known as the I-4 economic corridor study, it looks like it will be at least another year before Hillsborough County commissioners vote on a proposal.

"We still have a lot of work left to do," said John Healey, a county planner assigned to the project. "The plan today can be seen as a study and evaluation of conditions along I-4, along with the types of industries we're looking for and what would be needed to support them."

The cities of Tampa and Plant City, along with transportation, economic development and natural resource protection agencies, have worked together on the proposal. Since the commissioners ordered the study in February 2008, residents were also invited to ask questions and comment during a handful of public meetings during this initial phase of the project.

The most recent study area includes about 60,000 acres along a 26-mile stretch of the interstate from Temple Terrace to Polk County.

Eventually, an estimated 3,000 acres will become designated sites within the plan, and will span about 1 mile north and south of the highway.

Clean industries have been the targeted business type that county officials want to see populating the mostly agricultural area. Institutions such as the University of South Florida and related medical facilities are also viewed as top targets.

"But I want to emphasize that our study area is not the development area … and that this is a work in progress," Healey said. "The board has also indicated that they want the actual usage areas arranged in a tight manner along Interstate 4. They told us that they don't want to engender sprawl."

While parts of the study area have access to water and sewer lines, some don't. Seffner activist Terry Flott sees this as one costly roadblock within a project she thinks has no direction. Another concern for some is the lack of exits along I-4 between County Road 579 and Plant City.

"There are only three entrances and exits," she said. "It's a mess, and you know who's going to pay for this? We are, the taxpayers."

Since the study began, she has attended meetings for residents and those between county officials, business leaders and others involved.

The county has spent countless hours studying the area and still has no concrete ideas or plan, she said. She sees the study as a ploy for more building, whether it's residential or otherwise, that's done under the guise of economic development.

"I would tell people they should be watching this very carefully," she said. "This is a boondoggle in the making, if I've ever seen one."

The next phase includes implementing the study, along with making necessary changes to land development rules and amending the county's comprehensive plan, Healey said. The goal is to have those and other proposed changes ready for the board in September.

But even then, it will be months before commissioners would adopt anything.

"Like I said, we still have a lot of work left to do," he said.

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com, or (813) 661-2454.

>>Fast facts

To learn more

For maps and more information about the I-4 Economic Corridor Study, go to www.hillsboroughcounty.org/pgm/economicstudy.

Interstate 4 economic corridor study still lacks specifics 05/21/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 27, 2009 12:13pm]
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