Hillsborough Commission okays homes, minus stores, in planned neighborhood

As it did last month, a commission majority approves residential development in Riverview while waiving a commercial requirement.
Hillsborough Commissioner Mariella Smith objected to allowing a 136-home residential development without requiring a neighborhood commercial site to serve the residents.
Hillsborough Commissioner Mariella Smith objected to allowing a 136-home residential development without requiring a neighborhood commercial site to serve the residents. [ Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Nov. 10, 2020

TAMPA — In their final land use meeting, departing Hillsborough Commissioners Les Miller Jr. and Sandra Murman again heard a debate over a familiar question: Can a builder develop a community village without adding commercial property to serve the neighborhood?

In this instance, the builder is Homes by WestBay, whose president, Willy Nunn, offered substantial financial backing to Murman’s failed bid to unseat Commissioner Pat Kemp in the Nov. 3 election.

But commerce, not campaigns, was the center of the debate Tuesday. Homes by WestBay sought to rezone agricultural land into a 68-acre, 136-single-family-home development south of Boyette Road in the eastern edge of the Riverview community. The project is a phase of the Hawkstone development.

The proposed development includes 29 acres of open space, but no commercial property within the village. Commissioners debated a similar proposal from the same developer last month when a majority voted to allow a 571-home project without the required 7,700 square feet of stores and services.

Related: You can skip the stores, Hillsborough Commission tells Lithia home builder

County development rules say builders can increase housing densities in rural areas if they develop so-called planned villages — self-sustaining communities in which residents aren’t forced to leave their neighborhoods, adding traffic and carbon emissions to the surrounding area, in pursuit of basic necessities.

But, county rules also say planned villages of less than 160 acres can obtain a waiver of the commercial requirement if stores and services are within two miles. Without the waiver, the proposed Homes by WestBay neighborhood would need a commercial node of at least 1,836 square feet.

"Retail and commercial nodes want to be at logical main intersections. We’re talking about 1,800 square feet. How many more convenience store /gas stations do we want,'' Nunn said via email after the meeting.

In this instance, the planned village relied on commercial property within Fish Hawk Ranch and the Triple Creek developments to qualify for the waiver. But there is a problem with that, said Commissioner Mariella Smith — none of the commercial locations in Triple Creek have been built.

"The Triple Creek commercial amenities do not exist,'' Smith said. "They are planned and entitled but plans change and entitlements change. This commercial is simply not a reality at this time.''

Even if it did exist, she said, it is not within two miles of the proposed neighborhood.

She also cited substandard roads, school crowding, and buffering issues with neighboring property in seeking to deny the rezoning request. County staff and the Planning Commission recommended approval and no public objectors spoke at the meeting.

Kemp and Commissioner Kimberly Overman joined the dissent, but a majority of Commissioners — Stacy White, Ken Hagan, Miller and Murman — approved the rezoning. Nunn said afterward the market "is wildly over retailed'' and that commissioners reached the right decision.

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White said he agreed with Smith that more bicycle lanes are needed in the area, but he said the transportation fees and residential tax payments generated by the new homes could be used to cover those costs.

The meeting was the first by the commission under its new hybrid format. Smith, Kemp and Murman joined the meeting via teleconference while Miller, Overman, White and Hagan — wearing face coverings and separated by plastic partitions — met in their chambers at the Hillsborough County Center. Commissioners meet Thursday in the final regular board meeting for Murman and Miller, who must vacate their district seats because of term limits.