Hillsborough nixes job rule from Wimauma land plan

The controversial employment provision for developers is being challenged in court.
Businesses and homes are pictured on State Road 674 in Wimauma in August, 2020.
Businesses and homes are pictured on State Road 674 in Wimauma in August, 2020. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times (2020) ]
Published Aug. 13, 2021

Hillsborough commissioners approved new rules Thursday night for how rural Wimauma will grow in the future, but abandoned a previous job-creation requirement that triggered lawsuits from a developer.

Instead of setting aside space for a specific number of jobs, the proposed rules will allow developers, seeking greater residential densities, to pick from a list of community benefits like adding a park or promoting commercial development in the existing downtown Wimauma.

“The jobs requirement simply is not workable. You cannot regulate jobs into existence,” said attorney Jessica Icerman, who represents Eisenhower Property Group.

Land within the Wimauma village plan has been at the epicenter of a dispute in how southern Hillsborough County will grow in the future.
Land within the Wimauma village plan has been at the epicenter of a dispute in how southern Hillsborough County will grow in the future. [ C.T. BOWEN | Tampa Bay Times ]

Eisenhower sued over a 2019 zoning case in which the county said the company couldn’t build 387 houses in its planned 1,047-home community until it demonstrated space for approximately 300 new jobs.

Related: Wimauma at epicenter of Hillsborough land disputes

The company sued again after an August 2020 zoning decision in which the commission rejected its rezoning application to allow 387 homes on 193 acres because county calculations said the area needed 319 additional jobs for the project to proceed.

The suits, which are pending in Hillsborough Circuit Court, said the employment rule was illegal because it tied residential development to creating new commercial jobs on other people’s property.

The county said the rule is intended to discourage sprawl. Occupants of the new houses being built on former agricultural land should have opportunities to work near their homes instead of adding to road congestion while commuting to Tampa or elsewhere for employment, commissioners have said.

The changes are contained in a rewrite of the Wimauma community plan and amendments to the county’s comprehensive land plan for the southern Hillsborough enclave and surrounding rural land. The commission agreed unanimously Thursday night to transmit the updates to the state Department of Economic Opportunity for review before additional public hearings and a final vote in October.

The update to the original Wimauma plan written in 2007 comes amid an ongoing growth moratorium. The county has not accepted new rezoning applications for the Wimauma area for over a year and a half in order to to complete the community plan rewrite. The moratorium is scheduled to expire at the end of the year.

At the urging of community groups, the commission whittled the proposed list of community benefits, some of which “don’t really provide a public benefit,” said Liz Gutierrez, CEO of Enterprising Latinas.

One of the excised benefits allowed developers to get higher density if they agreed to construct six different types of buildings within their project.

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Commission Chairwoman Pat Kemp called the proposal “fairly meaningless” and Commissioner Mariella Smith said it was “insulting to the community.”

The commission also agreed to explore forming a task force as an accountability tool, so community members could review the benefits selected by developers as a trade off for adding more homes. Zoning in the agricultural area limits growth to one home per five acres, but developers can increase that density tenfold if they agree to cluster the homes to four per acre in a village setting, increase green space and make other concessions.