Mixed votes on Hillsborough suburban sprawl

It ain’t sexy stuff to write about Hillsborough County’s urban services boundary, but the imaginary line that is supposed to contain suburban sprawl around Florida cities is important nonetheless. Around these parts, it is under assault:

[Hillsborough County] Commissioners allowed a last-minute continuance of another bid to breach the county’s growth boundary, a move that angered 50 or more citizen activists who traveled from far-flung areas of the county to oppose the development on Lutz-Lake Fern Road near the Suncoast Parkway.

Developer Stephen Dibbs, who was not at the meeting, sent a letter this week to the commission asking for a delay on his proposal for a 36.6-acre development on Lutz-Lake Fern Road and Suncoast Parkway.

Dibbs wants to increase the density on his property tenfold, from one house per 5 acres to two houses per acre, and build a shopping center.

The continuance was the second granted by the commissioners this month after dozens of residents turned out to fight growth plan amendments that would push high-density development into rural areas.

“They’re making a mockery of this process,” said Kelly Cornelius, who then turned to the audience and asked, “Who else is tired of these continuations?” The crowd answered with a roar.

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That’s the Trib’s account. The Times downplayed the vote and didn’t mention the dissension:

Commissioners were scheduled to vote on two other controversial amendments, but hours earlier, developer Stephen J. Dibbs withdrew his request to remove 305 acres from the Keystone-Odessa Community Plan, which governs growth in the northwest Hillsborough community, and asked commissioners to postpone until 2009 considering a proposed denser development near Lutz-Lake Fern Road and the Suncoast Parkway.

Dibbs is particularly well connected to the commissioners, raising thousands of dollars in commission races and serving on host committees for high-powered fund-raising events. He just missed making my list of 10 “Money Men” in 2006, raising a litle more than $10,000 for county candidates (including 6 of the 7 current county commissioners — Ken Hagan, Mark Sharpe, Jim Norman, Al Higginbotham, Kevin White and Brian Blair) since 2002.

The only person he didn’t give to was Commissioner Rose Ferlita:

Commissioner Rose Ferlita, who didn’t arrive at the meeting until after the vote to give Dibbs the continuance, asked chairman Ken Hagan to hold the vote again so she could record her disapproval.

The vote was held again, with Ferlita and Mark Sharpe voting no.

“I think this has been done before, and it … beats down our citizens,” Ferlita said.

Dibbs was also the driving force behind a move to gut the county’s environmental protections for wetlands.

So let’s face it; it’s hard to say no to a guy who has raised thousands of dollars for you. And that’s why our urban services boundary is susceptible to change and further sprawl.

On the upside, commissioners did vote 6-0 against extending the growth boundary out east of Tampa, along I-4, when they turned down a request by an Orlando company that wants to build an industrial park:

Orlando’s M.L. Carter development wanted a land use change on 94 acres near I-4 and McIntosh Road. Representatives of the developer said that was the perfect spot for an industrial park and could draw high-paying jobs to Hillsborough.

“The county’s missing many opportunities,” attorney Vincent Marchetti said.

But commissioners said they wanted to wait for the county staff to complete its study of the I-4 corridor.

About 20 people spoke against M.L. Carter’s proposal, which they said would jeopardize the county’s rural communities.

“This is absolutely outrageous that you would even consider this,” said Terry Flott, president of the Seffner Community Alliance.

The commission voted 6-0 against the land-use change. Commissioner Kevin White left before the vote.

I don’t find any record of the Orlando firm contributing to county commission races, but its attorney, Vin Marchetti, is a major local donor, contributing more than $12,000 in city and county elections. He has donated $7,000 total to all seven current county commissioners.

So is the lesson the Hillsborough County Commission can’t be bought with campaign contributions? Or that contributions from a developer carry more weight than those from a land-use lawyer?


Spreadsheet of Dibbs' & Dibbs-owned companies' campaign contributions

Spreadsheet of Vincent Marchetti's local campaign contributions

Planning Commission review of Dibbs' land-use amendment request

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