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Results in after much planning

It's taken 20 months, close to 50 public meetings and hundreds, if not thousands, of man hours from SouthShore residents and county planners.

This spring, all that time and effort could come to fruition. The payoff could start as early as Monday, when the Planning Commission will hold a large public workshop on community-based plans from Ruskin, Riverview and Apollo Beach that could affect county growth for decades to come.

The Hillsborough County Commission will review the plans, which address everything from roads to schools to housing developments, on Wednesday. If approved, the growth plans could become part of the county's long-range planning strategy by May.

Since early 2003, residents have met regularly to discuss what they'd like to see the county provide in their communities, from job centers to environmental protections to design standards.

Riverview residents say they want to preserve the Alafia River and develop the U.S. 301 corridor. Apollo Beach residents say they want to build more parks and recreational facilities and strengthen the bonds between community groups. Ruskin residents say they hope to revitalize business along U.S. 41 while emphasizing their community's history and natural look.

"In Ruskin, they had pretty strong ideas about what they wanted the community character to reflect," said Krista Kelly, a principal planner with the Planning Commission who worked on the projects. "Apollo Beach, too. Their vision statements are pretty telling."

Ruskin residents, for example, were clear about the standards of living they want to see around their homes: "The Ruskin community values nature above commercialism; dark, star-filled skies at night above the glare of urban lights; and the sound of crickets and frogs above the noise of traffic," their plan reads.

For residents involved in the planning process, next week's workshop with the County Commission could validate the months of long committee meetings.

"Each community seemed to have a different idea about what they wanted to look at as a community," said Riverview resident Ron Proulx, who has been involved in SouthShore planning since 2001. "But in terms of the standards that we want met, I think we've got a lot in common _ to have nice landscaping, to have connectivity, certain signage standards."

All involved say they hope the plans will be approved. Planners say the Riverview and Apollo Beach plans have presented no major problems. In Ruskin, however, Deseret Farms has asked to opt portions of its land out of the plan because farm managers fear intended development restrictions might make the property less valuable to sell.

Other plans, such as those for Thonotosassa and the area around the University of South Florida have already been adopted for inclusion in the comprehensive plan. The Thonotosassa Community Plan was adopted in December 2003 after a four-year planning process.

Proulx, who attended advisory meetings in all three SouthShore areas, said even if the County Commission makes a few changes or suggestions, the plans will ultimately pass.

"I think all three communities can be very proud of the accomplishments. We're all looking forward to building on what we've done."

Jay Cridlin can be reached at 661-2442 or

If you go

The Planning Commission will hold a public meeting to discuss the Ruskin, Riverview and Apollo Beach community plans at 5:30 p.m. Monday on the 18th floor of the County Center, 601 E Kennedy Blvd. in Tampa. For more information, call Pedro Parra at 273-3774, ext. 356. The Hillsborough County Commission will review the plans during a workshop Wednesday and amend or offer suggestions on the plans. Barring any county objections, the community plans are scheduled for adoption into the county's comprehensive plan in May 2005.