Advertisement
  1. Opinion

Hillsborough should call time out on urban sprawl | Editorial

County commissioners should embrace moratorium on rezoning rural land in south county for big new developments.
East Hillsborough is Ground Zero for the folly of unchecked sprawl that has occurred over the last several decades. [Times (2005)] [Times staff]
East Hillsborough is Ground Zero for the folly of unchecked sprawl that has occurred over the last several decades. [Times (2005)] [Times staff]
Published Oct. 15, 2019

Hillsborough County is poised to take a step forward this week by taking a step back. County commissioners on Wednesday will consider a moratorium on some suburban development in the latest sign of mounting bipartisan frustration with runaway growth. The moratorium is a good idea; it could bring into sharper focus the public costs of sprawl and help build a broader consensus for more livable communities.

Commissioners will hold a public hearing on a proposed nine month moratorium that would freeze new rezoning applications under the so-called Residential Planned-2 land use category. As envisioned in the 1990s, that category was intended to promote self-sustaining developments—town center and village-style clusters in rural areas. But that hope never materialized; the category’s requirements lacked teeth and utility, frustrating residents, planners and developers. The commissioners’ recent approval of a 1,000-home development near Wimauma in rural south Hillsborough prompted them to vote unanimously to schedule Wednesday’s moratorium debate. While revisiting the land use category opens the door for both good changes and bad, it’s hard to imagine the existing framework could be worse. And it’s a welcome sign that both conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats on the commission recognize the current rules only invite costly sprawl.

Who knows where this discussion leads. Commissioners could tinker around the edges, focusing on design standards, such as trails and sidewalks or architectural features, that might make new suburban developments more attractive. More likely, the debate will call attention to the lack of roads, mass transit, utilities, schools and other infrastructure in the rural areas, and the county’s need to manage growth more proactively. Stronger regulations could make for more efficient land use, improve connectivity throughout the area and help preserve natural habitat and resources.

The result could be a blueprint for more responsible development in rural south county. Hillsborough could better quantify the cost-shifting that new developments force onto local taxpayers and respond accordingly. The board could offer developers a clearer vision for growth and concrete expectations of the permitting process. And the public could engage in long-term planning of their communities instead of reacting to an isolated rezoning. As a side benefit, Democrats and Republicans on the board could foster a better working relationship. Already, both sides have expressed their desires to save rural lifestyles and avoid the cost to taxpayers of extending public services far from established neighborhoods. And they are showing the most interest in decades in making the planning process more relevant.

Ultimately, the county will need to be more vigilant about steering development toward the urban areas. The traffic congestion it created by green-lighting development in south county won’t disappear overnight. But the moratorium provides a brief opportunity to step back and keep the problem from getting worse. The commission should approve a temporary halt, which would begin after a final vote next month. Then it should work in good faith to build stronger communities that work better for those who live there.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1.  [Chip Bok -- Creators.com]
  2. Teachers and supporters march during the Florida Education Association's "Take on Tallahassee" rally at the Old Capitol in Tallahassee. [PHIL SEARS  |  AP]
    Here’s what readers are saying in Saturday’s letters to the editor.
  3. Florida's unemployment rate hit a record low in December. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File) [LYNNE SLADKY  |  AP]
    Nearly every major job sector posted gains from a year earlier.
  4. The entrance to Moffit Cancer Center in Tampa. [Courtesy of Moffitt Cancer Center]
    The secret jobs and payments provided by China to researchers at the University of Florida and Moffitt Cancer Center are greater than initially reported. A House committee should keep investigating.
  5. The Florida Aquarium celebrates its 25th year. And it has much to show for it.
    A magnet in Tampa Bay for tourism, conservation and regional growth.
  6. Mac Stipanovich
    Whether it’s regulating the collection of voter signatures on the front end or passing new laws on the back end, they seek to silence the voices of the governed.
  7. St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway and U.S. Attorney, Middle District of Florida, Maria Chapa Lopez, announced the Department of Justice awarded a $741,556 grant to the St. Petersburg Police Department for three years to create a regional Tampa Bay Human Trafficking Task Force at the department. [SCOTT KEELER  |  TAMPA BAY TIMES]
    The Tampa Bay Human Trafficking Force is a unique opportunity to bridge the gap of local law enforcement and reduce human trafficking.
  8. A rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation this week would allow airlines to crack down on personal pets that are carried aboard as so-called service animals. [MARK SCHIEFELBEIN  |  AP]
    Trained dogs are fine. Pigs and turkeys—uh, no.
  9.  [Andy Marlette -- Pensacola News Journal]
  10. Farmers in Florida have the potential to make real impact in the climate crisis, according to these columnists.
    We need science to show how farms can capture more carbon, how forests and pastures can clean more air.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement