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Tent city for homeless in Hillsborough County still a possibility

TAMPA — For now, at least, a plan to create a tent city for the homeless in Hillsborough County still lives.

County commissioners voted 5-2 Tuesday to send a proposal from Catholic Charities back to a zoning hearing master, which starts part of the rezoning process over again.

This gives the public a chance to comment on recent changes to the controversial proposal, commissioners said.

"Hopefully as this moves forward we can come up with something for both sides," Commissioner Rose Ferlita said. "We've met with staff and are looking at other sites. There are some possibilities. Please don't give up on the process yet."

No details about alternative sites were discussed Tuesday.

Last month commissioners postponed their decision , and asked their staff to review county law and define what's needed to approve the project.

The nonprofit group wants to create a tent village on 12 acres, similar to its tent city in Pinellas Park on land near the intersection of Harney Road and E Hillsborough Avenue. In August 2008, Catholic Charities asked to rezone the land to provide emergency housing for 250 people up to 90 days at a time.

After last month's meeting with commissioners, Catholic Charities modified its plan, relocating tents and casitas, adding more buffers and screening, and eliminating access points on Hillsborough Avenue near area neighborhoods.

"We've been working with the county staff, and there have been some good ideas," said Frank Murphy, a spokesman for Catholic Charities. "We're open to suggestions as long as we can address the needs of the homeless."

He said they would also consider a different location if it was comparable to the current one. Public transportation is key, he said. That's one reason the Diocese of St. Petersburg, which owns the land, offered the site.

County planners and a hearing officer have recommended against the plan, saying it doesn't meet the definition of a camp and the county lacks regulations for transitional housing.

Local opponents say it will erode property values, hurt business and bring crime and blight.

On Tuesday, Commissioner Kevin White said it would be an eyesore. He and Commissioner Ken Hagan voted against reconsidering the project.

Residents from neighboring East Lake Park said they were glad for the chance to be heard. They had threatened to sue.

The county needs more help for the homeless, East Lake home­owner Hal Hart said. But if they approve this location "and they do not follow the due process of law," the neighbors would have to consider going to court.

A zoning hearing master is set to review the project Aug. 25.

Tent city for homeless in Hillsborough County still a possibility 08/11/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 11, 2009 10:42pm]
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