Joe Henderson: People keep moving to Tampa. What kind of place are they going to find?

The lack of political will by the County Commission — for decades — to deal with runaway sprawl led to many of the problems we now see.
Bumper to bumper traffic on State Road 60 in Brandon. [Times (2011)]
Bumper to bumper traffic on State Road 60 in Brandon. [Times (2011)]
Published April 25
Updated April 26

The scariest story of the week had nothing to do with the lunacy of Washington, or any of the other modern plagues the squawkers on cable TV scream that we should fear, lest we die.

Nope.

It wasn’t the brawling Easter bunny, either (only in Florida, right?).

Nope.

RELATED: Easter Bunny brawler is Pasco man and fugitive from New Jersey with violent past

It was a story on Page 1B in your Tuesday edition of the Tampa Bay Times. It detailed how more than 51,000 people moved into the Tampa Bay area last year, ranking us ninth in the nation for something called Numeric Growth.

Hillsborough County placed 10th in the land for people growth with about 27,000 new residents.

Put another way, Hillsborough added nearly the population of New Port Richey (about 16,000) and Zephyrhills (about 15,000) combined. All those new folks, moving in to enjoy our warmth, diversity, entertainment options, and gridlock.

RELATED: Hillsborough's booming growth makes Tampa Bay one of the country's fastest growing regions

Uh, welcome. Everyone needs to squeeze a little closer together, please.

As a transplant myself, albeit in 1974, it would be inappropriate to rail about newcomers deciding this is the place they want to be. We celebrate growth around here, and we have had a lot of practice doing that.

We just need to do it properly.

Outgoing Tampa Mayor and Chief Cheerleader Bob Buckhorn — well, we assume he is leaving, but Vegas has yet to post odds on him actually vacating the office he loves — has frequently championed Tampa’s growth.

RELATED: A conversation with Bob Buckhorn on his way out as Tampa mayor. (Spoiler: He doesn’t want to go.)

Give Hizzoner credit though. In the next breath he always adds the “yeah, but …” By that he means the challenges remarkable growth brings, and I haven’t seen much evidence that has ever adequately been addressed. That’s especially true in unincorporated Hillsborough.

The lack of political will by the County Commission for decades to deal with runaway sprawl led to many of the problems we now see. Big box stores are everywhere. Roads can’t handle the traffic volume.

Houses are going up as quickly as they can be built, even in places you might not consider ideal locations. In Brandon, for instance, nice homes are being built along the length of the railroad tracks that cut through the area, and people are buying them.

Nothing says the Florida lifestyle like waking to the shrill sound of a diesel locomotive whistle as boxcars rumble past your bedroom window.

People got so frustrated with the lack of political action to deal with traffic congestion that they voted last November to tax themselves to pay for upgrades. But then Commissioner Stacy White arbitrarily decided the people didn’t understand what they were doing and sued to stop the All For Transportation initiative because, you know, things are just peachy the way they are.

A judge is expected to hear White’s argument next month that the charter amendment he opposes unlawfully strips power from the do-nothings, I mean, from commissioners. He doesn’t like the provision that creates a citizens’ oversight committee to see that officials follow the will of the voters.

While the legal machinery dithers and ponders though, people keep coming. There is no indication that will stop in the foreseeable future. I mean, did you see how lousy the last winter was up north?

It’s not just older people deciding they’ve had enough of frostbite, either. Buckhorn’s administration worked overtime to attract a younger, tech-savvy crowd that comes with a different set of expectations for the place they choose to live.

A lot of those expectations are wrapped around mobility. Cars won’t disappear from our roadways but sustaining Tampa and Hillsborough’s climb will depend on offering multiple options for getting around.

There is no, um, getting around that.

White’s lawsuit should be tossed by the judge so Hillsborough can get back to the business of preparing for an influx of people that most places can’t imagine.

They’re going to keep coming, no matter what.

Even Stacy White can’t stop that.

The question is, what kind of city are they going to find?

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