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Hillsborough County Commission gets final say on distribution hub proposal

TAMPA — A California company hoping to build a distribution hub near environmentally sensitive land in Ruskin gets one more chance at its proposal after planning commissioners shot down its request to build a giant warehouse facility off U.S. 41.

Siding with its staff, the planning commission voted unanimously Monday night against Inland Port Systems' request to change the county's comprehensive plan, which restricts industrial businesses to urban areas. Commissioner Jacqueline Wilson was not at the meeting.

The request now goes before the County Commission at its meeting on Aug. 13. Despite the unanimous vote against the project, several planning commissioners said they liked the idea, just not the location.

"This is a very hard decision," said Commissioner Hung Mai, who listed five big strikes against the project, including its remoteness from public utilities and infrastructure investments at the Tampa port and Interstate 4.

Inland hopes to build 2.6 million square feet of warehouse and office space on almost 400 acres of farmland off U.S. 41 north of the Manatee County line. More than 2,500 acres of conservation land surround the proposed project site.

Inland's project calls for truck and rail docks as part of a distribution center for container shipments arriving by land, rail or sea. The company expects expansion in traffic of container cargo at Tampa's port in the next few decades.

Inland president Richard Ellison told commissioners the project would help Tampa Bay compete in global trade, which depends heavily on container shipments. He said the facility would employ 1,800 people when it's built out and add $7 million a year in property taxes to county coffers.

He said his company would help pay for restoration of environmentally sensitive land; build its own water and wastewater plants for the site; and cut use of groundwater by 300,000 gallons a day from its current farm users.

About 18 environmentalists and residents from nearby Sundance spoke against the project. They worried about truck traffic and potential pollution or run-off harm to adjacent conservation land.

"This project is a disaster waiting to happen," said Mariella Smith, a Ruskin activist.

Project consultants said truck traffic would use U.S. 41 and Interstate 75. They also said the site was the best place in the county because tenants don't want to cut through congestion near the port.

Commissioners wanted to hear from Tampa port officials.

Charles Klug Jr., deputy port director, said the port was neutral on the project, which lies far from the port's industrial zone. Also, most of the port's container traffic moves along Interstate 4 — not U.S. 41.

"We don't think this is the right location for us," Klug said.

Planning commissioners agreed. The site sits outside the urban service core, where the comprehensive plan steers development to discourage sprawl in rural areas.

"It's inconsistent with the comprehensive plan," said planning commission chairman Bruce Cury. "I don't think you got over that first threshold."

Saundra Amrhein can be reached at amrhein@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2441.

Hillsborough County Commission gets final say on distribution hub proposal 06/25/09 [Last modified: Thursday, June 25, 2009 4:30am]
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