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Ten east Hillsborough people, places and issues to watch in 2010

Happy new year! A few hours ago, the clock struck midnight, ushering in a new decade. Filled with promise and potential, the new year provides an opportunity for new beginnings and, with any luck, solutions to enduring challenges. Here, in no particular order, are 10 issues, people and places to watch in eastern Hillsborough in 2010.

Tent city

Catholic Charities vows to come back with a plan to create a homeless camp on land at E Hillsborough Avenue and Harney Road.

As nearby residents wait for the proposal, expected in the first quarter, they aren't happy to learn that Catholic Charities wants to try again. Others wonder if proposals to push the camp farther from Tampa into unincorporated parts of the county will emerge.

Catholic Charities president Frank Murphy said the nonprofit has been busy revamping a failed proposal to use the site for Hillsborough Cares. The group hoped to house 250 people in tents and wooden sheds on the land owned by the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

East Lake Park residents, who live across Hillsborough Avenue from the site, don't want Catholic Charities to pursue any more projects near their homes. But in the end, most everyone agrees that something needs to be done to address what has become the largest homeless population in the state.

Chandra Broadwater, Times staff writer

Decision 2010

To make this election stew, start with conservative voters looking to reassert their will. Add an electorate casting votes in four county commission races, three state legislative showdowns and two congressional battles.

Mix in ballot initiatives, including a county transportation proposal to increase the sales tax to 8 percent, a state constitutional amendment that could change the way we manage growth, and a county mayor initiative. The transportation proposal is the most likely to boil over. Most of the money would fund a light rail system through Tampa, but part would go toward road projects throughout the county, including the widening of Lithia-Pinecrest Road.

Will the road projects be enough to win over voters? Will they see light rail as benefiting the region and not just the city? Stay tuned.

Ernest Hooper, Times staff writer

Sugar Belle

Citrus growers will have a chance to plant a new type of citrus that has been in the works at the University of Florida for about 24 years. Shoppers should see the Sugar Belle, a bold-flavored mandarin orange hybrid, in stores by early December.

The fruit — a mix of the sweet Clementine and the colorful Minneola — is the first citrus cultivar released by UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Nurseries are growing the trees now, and growers across the state can start planting them after the threat of freezes has ceased — probably in April, said Peter Chaires, executive director of the New Varieties Development & Management Corp., which has the exclusive U.S. license for the Sugar Belle.

Chaires has tasted the fruit.

"It's got a very deep flavor," he said. "Some folks like to use the word 'rich.' It's not rich in a candy sense, but it's very sweet, but it also has enough body to the flavor … It's just a more complex flavor than other fruits, and I think people will like it."

Jessica Vander Velde, Times staff writer

Sun City Center golf courses

Three private golf courses in Sun City Center remain on the market, and one has closed after developer WCI Communities' emergence from bankruptcy.

The North Lakes Golf Course closed in October, and looks it.

"It has not been maintained as a golf course, but you wouldn't expect it to be," said Ed Barnes, president of the community association board. "You can tell it's not operating. The grass is higher. There's not as much maintenance in the fairways and greens."

The other two courses for sale are Caloosa Greens Golf Club and Sandpiper Golf Club. This month, Sandpiper will open to nonmembers, but members will have priority for tee times.

In July, WCI informed the board that it planned to sell all three courses for $3.9 million. A spokeswoman said the company hopes to sell the courses to one buyer.

Kevin Smetana, Times staff writer

School choice

Last year began with a flood of applications for the International Baccalaureate program at the new Strawberry Crest High School, and it ended with disappointment about a proposed charter school.

The district's fourth IB program opened this fall with 147 freshmen, who are preparing for the rigorous two-year program even before final acceptance of Strawberry Crest's application to offer the international diploma.

But parents voiced strong opposition to the School Board's decision in December to reject an application by Imagine Schools to open a charter school in Riverview. The board cited concerns about the school's finances and governance model, but parents say they want more alternatives to traditional public schools in east Hillsborough.

"I just think it is really a shame," parent Jim Harkins told the St. Petersburg Times. "We certainly need more options out where we are."

Tom Marshall, Times staff writer

Development

Long an economic engine in the South Shore and Brandon area, development has wheezed and sputtered since prices peaked in the summer of 2006.

Don't expect much change in 2010. Despite what seems a rash of building by residential developers, it appears real estate will be a mixed bag at best.

Real estate agent Connie Smaldone, who also serves as the honorary mayor of Brandon, said pockets like FishHawk Ranch will remain more successful than average, with fewer foreclosures and more new home sales.

Smaldone, who lives in the development, also believes Circa FishHawk will enjoy an uptick with the addition of Mosaic's 100,000-square-foot office, set to open this spring.

In the South Shore area, some of the newer developments plagued by an onslaught of investors could begin the long climb back this year.

On the commercial side, however, the developers who built strip malls and shopping centers in anticipation of new residents may continue to struggle.

Riverview's Winthrop Town Centre, which houses the Times' Riverview bureau, may be the exception. Successful restaurants and completion of the Brandon Community Advantage Center at the end of 2010 should help Winthrop attract more traffic.

Ernest Hooper, Times staff writer

Hometown hopeful

The hands that once caught fly balls and swung bats at North Brandon Little League now hold the chance to be everyday contributors for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Matt Joyce, in his second year with the organization, may end up platooning in right field for the AL East contenders if he can produce during spring training. The former Armwood High School product came to the Rays in a trade that sent 14-game winner Edwin Jackson to the Detroit Tigers.

Jackson made the All-Star game in 2009, while Joyce spent the bulk of the season with Triple-A Durham.

The organization, however, remains high on Joyce's long-term potential, as evidenced by its decision to release outfielder Gabe Gross.

Brandon area youngsters may get a real thrill if Joyce ends up getting significant playing time. The North Brandon Little League has two other current players in the majors in Detroit's Ryan Raburn and Chone Figgins, who went from the Los Angeles Angels to the Seattle Mariners in the off-season.

And fans can get a thrill watching the next great product at this spring's Saladino Baseball Tournament, which celebrates its 30th year. Brandon High will serve as the primary host for the high school tourney.

Ernest Hooper, Times staff writer

Transportation

There won't be any light rail stops in Brandon for decades. But county leaders have touted nonrail projects to residents in east Hillsborough if they pass a 1-cent sales tax referendum expected in November.

If the tax is approved, some of the $174 million a year it will generate could improve roads like Pauls Drive and Bell Shoals Road. Other money would help to double the size of the county bus fleet, which would add neighborhood circulators and improve intersections in eastern and southern parts of the county.

Specifically, millions have also been recommended to widen Lithia-Pinecrest, improve U.S. 301 and create an off-road trail near the Little Manatee River.

Chandra Broadwater, Times staff writer

City leaders

Two Plant City Commission seats are up for grabs in 2010.

The three-year terms of Mayor Rick Lott, top at left, and Vice Mayor Daniel Raulerson end in June. Both say they plan to run again.

Lott is running for his third term and Raulerson, his second. Opponents could join the race and challenge these incumbents, but no one can file until qualifying week, which begins Feb. 15. The election is April 6.

The commission seats are part time with salaries just under $10,000.

If elected, Lott, a businessman, said he plans to continue working on the redevelopment of Plant City's midtown and industrial park to create jobs.

"I want to keep on pushing them forward," he said.

Raulerson, an accountant, said he wants to promoting water conservation and other strategies to store water for times of drought.

Both say they want to improve the city's roads.

Jessica Vander Velde, Times staff writer

Lithia-Pinecrest

It has been a hot topic of discussion, but don't expect much to happen this year on the Lithia-Pinecrest Road widening project.

A public hearing will be held in February after the final recommendation of a $2.3 million study, Hillsborough County spokesman Steve Valdez said. But the bottom line is that there is no money available for the roadwork.

The study could call for an additional two to four lanes along various stretches of the 11 miles between State Road 60 and County Road 39.

Meanwhile, the fate of a proposed retail and office park on 19 agricultural acres bordered by Lithia-Pinecrest, Brooker and Valrico roads is likely to be decided in 2010.

Despite heavy opposition from area residents, a county zoning hearing master recently recommended that commissioners rezone the land. County commissioners could make a final decision Jan. 12.

If approved, the development's timetable will hinge on the widening of Lithia-Pinecrest Road.

Kevin Smetana, Times staff writer

Ten east Hillsborough people, places and issues to watch in 2010 12/31/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 31, 2009 3:30am]

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