Brandon neighborhood snatched from the clutches of developer rainman

As usual, Team Sprawl Captain Norman did his property rights routine. For those that are not familiar with his shtick, it goes like this – if someone owns property, they have a right to use that land any way they want, and if it conflicts with existing regulations, as well as, with what the majority of the neighborhood wants, we should do everything we can to make them happy, even if the rest of us have to suffer a little…and it doesn’t matter if the land owner bought that property knowing what the restrictions were when they bought it, the owner should be given every consideration in trying to change the rules to accommodate their own individual desires…basically it’s a me-first and screw everyone else type approach, which is lauded by members of Team Sprawl.

Land owner/speculator Dr Gregory Henderson was represented by Vin Marchetti, one of the most powerful land use attorneys in Tampa. And BTW, the power is derived at least in part by his close political ties to key decision makers on the BOCC which, in turn, makes county staff oh-so-flexible.

[image-1]Basically, Marchetti gambled on this one the whole way through, and lost.

He encountered push back from county staff from the very beginning. He also knew that neighborhood residents were dead-set against it, so he had no citizen support. But things like that are only side issues to Marchetti. The Planning & Growth Management (PGM) planner assigned to the case, Susan Mariner, thought it was not compatible. She got shut out of the meetings as Marchetti dealt directly with PGM management. In the end, Mariner refused to sign off supporting it, so Marchetti got her boss to sign off. What he didn’t give enough credence to was the determination and energy of the neighborhood residents, led by Deborah Humphreys and Lynea D’Angelo. They contacted the press, ran extensive letter writing campaigns, held traffic rallies along Lithia Pinecrest, posted signs and made sure they filled county center to overflow capacity during the rezoning hearing and the BOCC land use meeting.

Marchetti thought he could rely on his Team Sprawl associates to bail him out of this difficult scenario. He made subtle threats to the commission that he’d see them in court if they didn’t approve it. He gave both the Zoning Hearing Master and the BOCC copies of case law. He lectured the ZHM that he can’t use “need” as a criteria for determining whether or not to recommend approval (because, obviously, there was no need and everyone knew it). One of his land use attorney friends even lectured the rezoning opponents just before the start of the hearing at county center, saying that if they didn’t agree to this rezoning, they would end up with Section 8 housing in their neighborhood.

So in effect, Marchetti relied on a number of tried and true tactics for winning – intimidation, escalation and political connection.

He forgot to factor in that 2010 is an election year and some Team Sprawl members are running for re-election. Marchetti didn’t realize that we’re getting reasonably close to election time and as a result, Hagan must have decided to be a little more citizen-friendly with his votes this time around. Norman and White must have figured that election time is still far enough away that these dumb citizens will have forgotten how they voted by that time.

[image-2]At one point during the land use hearing, Marchetti was asked if he would be OK if they remanded the case back to the ZHM. Remanding would allow more time to work through all of the issues, especially the chief problem, which was intense citizen opposition. Marchetti was in a gambling mood and felt lucky, so he stood firm and refused to accept a remand. The remand would have allowed the BOCC to avoid making a decision, at least for now. Once he refused, it left them no alternative but to vote it up or down.

Three cheers for the Lithia/Brooker neighborhood!!!! They prevailed, in spite of the powerful forces they were opposing. They demonstrated that communities can force a positive outcome if they remain determined, organized, and unified.

It would be nice if the adjoining neighborhoods along Lithia Pinecrest could unite and push back on the proposed but unfunded Lithia Pinecrest road-widening project. This project is being strongly pushed by the Brandon Chamber of Commerce in an effort to copy the same type of commercial development on Lithia Pinecrest that exists along SR 60. If concerned citizens along that roadway get organized and object to it, perhaps we can avoid displacing many of the homeowners that will lose their homes if/when the roadway does get widened. The reality is that land speculators like Dr Henderson will keep coming back with commercial projects in the hope that the road widening remains in the county's plan. And don’t be fooled - new and widened roads beget more sprawl, and don’t really end up fixing the traffic problems they were attempting to solve. Road enhancements are interpreted by our developer-friendly officials as a green light to promote more development. If Team Sprawl gets their way, Lithia Pinecrest will get widened and quickly become another SR60. And you can bet that 19.2 acre citrus grove will eventually have a drive-thru and will be serving Big Macs at 2:00am in the morning.

By George Niemann

PoHo contributor and R-LAND, UCAN, Amendment 4, FSP activist

The ideas expressed are my own and not necessarily those of the organizations to which I belong

At the land use meeting held on January 12, 2010 in downtown Tampa, Hillsborough’s Board of County Commissioners decided to spare a Brandon neighborhood from further commercialization.

Neighborhood residents cheered and gave a standing ovation to the BOCC for rejecting a rezoning request that would have replaced a 19.2 acre citrus grove at the intersection of Lithia Pinecrest/Brooker Road with a shopping center containing medical offices, apartments, fast food chains and 24 hr retail stores.

Not all of the BOCC deserved those cheers, however. The vote to reject the rezoning request was 5-2. Team Sprawl members, Commissioner Jim Norman and Commissioner Kevin White were the two that voted against rejecting it. Just to be clear, Team Sprawl has 4 members on the BOCC – Hagan, Higginbotham, Norman and White, however, there are occasions when members do break ranks for political reasons and end up voting for citizens, and not for developers, although that is generally rare.

The problems with this case were the usual suspects - incompatibility with the surrounding community and lack of infrastructure, namely the roads to support the resulting traffic.

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