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Hillsborough development committee called too developer friendly

Published Apr. 5, 2012

TAMPA — To its supporters, a new Hillsborough County economic development committee means more ways to create jobs and boost struggling businesses.

But detractors say the group is too heavily stacked with members who have pro-development interests.

On Wednesday, county commissioners appointed the final two of 21 committee members. Earlier that morning, some residents denounced the Economic Prosperity Stakeholder Committee's membership as being far too development friendly.

"This is focused on benefiting one specific group and does not address the real economic issues," said George Niemann, a Dover resident.

The committee, chaired by Commissioner Sandra Murman, includes a contractor, a land-use lawyer and representatives from the Tampa Bay Builders Association and the Economic Development Corporation.

The committee was created to find ways to streamline business opportunities by reducing permitting time, removing outdated regulations and making it easier for businesses to operate without negatively affecting the county's quality of life.

Ultimately, Murman said, the committee's ideas will benefit the county as a whole.

"We want to position Hillsborough County to be a top job creator in this state," she said.

Opponents worry that developers could use to the committee to rewrite development rules to boost profits, as well as build unnecessary commercial properties and homes without buyers. Besides, opponents said, development jobs are only temporary.

"When you build, you are creating temporary jobs, not long-term employment," said Yvette Maldonado of Dover. "It will result in higher profits for builders but higher taxes for us."

Commissioners assured opponents that they would not stand for biased decisionmaking, such as rushing to waive existing fees.

"If I find this is nothing more than to help a few people push through some projects, then I'm going to vote no," Commissioner Mark Sharpe said.

Representatives said the committee will take public opinion into account before altering regulations or codes.

"I think the board needs to be clearer on what we want this task force to do," Commissioner Victor Crist said. "It could turn into a cluster screw up if it operates in a vacuum."

Crist later asked the committee to bring only well thought out recommendations to the board. Commissioners would have final approval of any changes proposed by the committee.

When the committee begins meeting in May, the Urban Land Institute will simultaneously conduct a study to determine methods to improve the county's overall economic welfare. The committee will use the study and the input of a technical support group to determine future action, representatives said.

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Sarah Whitman can be reached at (813) 661-2439 or swhitman@sptimes.com.

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