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Tent city for homeless in Hillsborough goes back to start

TAMPA — It's back to the drawing board for a tent city in Hillsborough County.

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

Since commissioners postponed making a decision last month, Catholic Charities has been working with county staff to modify its plan. At the July 21 meeting, commissioners directed staff to review county law and define what's needed to approve the project, which would be near the intersection of Harney Road and E Hillsborough Avenue.

A new round of meetings will give the public chances to comment on the changes, commissioners said.

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

In addition to other potential locations, some changes suggested by the county include: relocating the tents and small dwellings on the site, adding more buffers and screening, and putting access points farther away from neighborhoods.

The nonprofit wants to create a tent village on 12 acres, similar to Pinellas Hope, its other tent city in Pinellas Park.

The group had requested to rezone the Hillsborough land to provide temporary emergency housing for 250 people up to 90 days at a time.

County planners and a hearing officer each said it should be denied. A tent city does not meet the definition of a camp, and the county does not have any process in place to guide creation of transitional housing, officials noted.

Residents and business owners who oppose the plan have said they anticipate decreased property values, a drop in business profits and an increase in crime and blight.

"This is a good thing," said Hal Hart, an East Lake Park resident against the project. "I think the commissioners are listening, and the fact that they are talking about other locations is a positive sign."

Catholic Charities spokesman Frank Murphy said the group was more than willing to work with county staff and residents to make its proposal work.

"We're open to suggestions as long as we can address the needs of the homeless," Murphy said.

The zoning hearing master is scheduled to rehear the project Aug. 25. Commissioners will most likely vote on the issue sometime in October.

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

Tent city for homeless in Hillsborough goes back to start 08/11/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 11, 2009 11:13am]
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