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Hillsborough blesses new development rules for rural parts of the county

To add residential density, developers must provide community benefits like added parks or a neighborhood center.
Hillsborough is updating the community plans for the rural areas around Balm and Wimauma in southern Hillsborough County. Thursday evening, commissioners heard from residents of Balm. The hearing pertaining to Wimauma is Thursday, Aug. 12.
Hillsborough is updating the community plans for the rural areas around Balm and Wimauma in southern Hillsborough County. Thursday evening, commissioners heard from residents of Balm. The hearing pertaining to Wimauma is Thursday, Aug. 12. [ Hillsborough County ]
Published Aug. 6, 2021

Hillsborough County’s proposed development guidelines for Balm and the surrounding vicinity are on the way from the rural southeast county community to the state capital of Tallahassee.

Commissioners approved the rules, contained in an amendment to the county’s land use plan, Thursday night. Intended to guide future residential developments in the Balm area, the amendment is being sent to state authorities for review before a final commission vote in October.

The county designates the largely rural land as RP-2, or residential planned. It now is under a growth moratorium, approved by commissioners in late 2019, so the land use plan could be rewritten in the face of fast-paced residential development straining roads and other services.

Related: Hillsborough to extend south county growth moratorium

The area is outside the county’s urban service boundary and new home construction is limited to one home per five acres. But exemptions are common. Developers can circumvent that cap, increasing density ten-fold, if they provide necessary infrastructure and design their projects as self-contained villages with clustered housing and commercial businesses.

Related: You can skip the stores commission tells home builder

It’s led to multiple disputes, with developers arguing neighborhood retailing is an outdated requirement in an era of online shopping. Likewise, the county successfully defended a legal challenge after five property owners sued when commissioners rejected an August 2019 rezoning request to turn 449 acres of agricultural land in Balm into an 899-home development.

Related: Hillsborough court rejects bid to overturn rezoning denial

The proposed rules eliminate the clustering of homes and required onsite commercial buildings. To gain the increased density, developers can choose from a pre-approved list of 16 community benefits like setting aside additional land for parks, providing connectivity to existing trails or establishing a neighborhood center. That neighborhood center could contain a park, community garden, food truck court, farmers market or space for a government building.

New developments also can include multiple lot sizes and architectural designs to try to eliminate cookie-cutter neighborhoods in an area seeking to preserve its rural characteristics.

Residents of Balm, however, said the county should require a specific percentage of half-acre or one-acre lots in the new developments.

“We need somehow (an) ironclad way to lock these lot sizes down, so the developers cannot try to weasel out of it which we know they’re going to try to,” said James Frankland.

He was one of six speakers at a public hearing Thursday night, most of whom suggested the commission should delay its vote and continue working on the proposals.

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“We hear about property rights for the developers, for the farmers for stuff like that. Just want to emphasize our property rights. Make sure they’re taken into account,” said Buddy Harwell of the Balm Civic Association.

Related: Wimauma at epicenter of Hillsborough land disputes

The county’s moratorium on new rezoning applications also applies to Wimauma and expires at the end of the year. The commission is scheduled to consider new development rules for the Wimauma area Aug. 12.

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