Even though the county's plan for using Brooker Creek Preserve and the Wilde property has a basic structural flaw, county commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to send the proposals out to half a dozen agencies for comment and fix them later.
The staff of the Pinellas Planning Council, the guardian of the voter-approved countywide land use plan, has said the proposals are not consistent with the countywide rules and land use map. And consistency is required by Florida law.
On the countywide map, nearly all the land in the more than 8,000-acre Brooker Creek Preserve is preservation land, which the plan says is to be "open and undeveloped." Yet the county's proposal will allow six-story industrial buildings or reservoirs on 260 preserve acres north of Keystone Road. On much of the remaining preserve, the proposal would allow wellheads and pump houses.
Proponents of the county plan say land use in the preserve must provide for using water resources if they are ever needed and must allow industrial buildings to treat the county's water supply. They would also like to end the bickering over what can be built in the preserve.
Opponents say the plan breaks covenant with the public, allowing intensive uses on land that's supposed to be preserve.
A solution that is acceptable to the Planning Council is to amend the definition of preservation land use to allow more uses and to structure the proposal for designating land with utility uses differently, with a new land use category called resource management overlay. County officials have said they will work with the Planning Council so that their final plan is consistent with the countywide plan.
Tuesday, despite heavy opposition from neighbors, commissioners also voted unanimously to move forward with a proposal to change the land use on 100 acres of the Wilde wellfield on Old Keystone Road to recreation/open space to allow ballfields. The county expects to close on buying the 871-acre Wilde property soon.
Rick Millian, an attorney for some of the neighbors, outlined some of the problems with the way the county has handled the proposed land use changes for the ballfields so far. Among them:
- Inadequate notification of the pending proposal. He said the map on a flier that went to the neighbors was incorrect and misleading, and a flier with a corrected map was never sent.
- A plan showing where the ballfields would go was not given to neighbors until Tuesday night's hearing, so there was no time to analyze it in advance and respond to it at the hearing.
The county's preliminary plan for the ballfields shows 25 acres of recreation fields in the northeast corner of the 100 acres.
It also creates a new entrance near the eastern end of Old Keystone Road that would be used to access the new ballfields as well as existing fields further west on Old Keystone Road. Most of Old Keystone Road would be for local access then, gated just west of the ballfield access road and open only to emergency vehicles.
After looking at the plan Wednesday, East Lake Fire Rescue Division Chief Steve Rogers said whenever they have to use gates, it will increase response time by 30 to 40 seconds.
"Gates mean time," Rogers said.
Some of the seven items commissioners considered Tuesday, like the zoning changes, will now be adopted. But the land use changes will have to go through many more public hearings before ultimate approval. And before ballfields can be built, officials will also need to go before the county's Board of Adjustment for a special exception.
After listening to 11 neighbors and Millian speak against the land use change and two East Lake Youth Sports Association officials who said they need fields, Commissioner Calvin Harris moved to approve the ballfields.
"It's time for us to step up and say we're going to build something for this community besides jails," Harris said.
Theresa Blackwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4170.