Hillsborough Planning & Growth Management’s bizarre theorem revealed – “It’s not sprawl if it’s planned properly”

By George Niemann

CL contributor and R-LAND, UCAN, FSP and FHD/Amendment 4 activist

The views expressed are my own and are not necessarily the same as the organizations to which I belong

Hillsborough seems like Superman’s Bizarro World at times, especially when you pay careful attention as to how it plans and manages growth. What is Bizarro World? Well, it’s a planet that came out of the Superman saga. That planet’s inhabitants are ruled by the Bizarro Code, which states "Us do opposite of all earthly things! Us hate beauty! Us love ugliness! Is big crime to make anything perfect on Bizarro World!".

The citizens of Hillsbo Bizzarough County learned something new at a Board of County Commissioners public hearing on May 6, 2010. They learned that sprawl isn’t sprawl. At least according to Director of Planning and Growth Management, Peter Aluotto, it isn’t. In defending the county’s proposed plan to put commercial development right smack dab in the middle of rural land, he declares, “…IT'S NOT SPRAWL IF IT'S PLANNED PROPERLY”. WTF?

How was this bizarre theorem revealed? Well, it went like this.

The BOCC held a public hearing to decide on the balance of the comprehensive growth plan amendments for the first half of 2010 (first cycle 2010).

There was a key amendment that was being decided that night. It was the I-4 Green Tech Corridor amendment. That amendment would create an “economic development overlay” to possibly attract business development. It covers a wide area on either side of I-4 from Mango out to Plant City. Sounds great, right? Hillsborough is hoping to attract high tech and life science businesses which will bring high paying jobs with it.

There’s at least one major problem with the plan, however. A huge portion of the overlay is in the rural area. High paying jobs are important, but why do you have to put them in the middle of farmland and open green space? Why do you put it in a place where there is no county water and sewer, inadequate local roads, prevalent sink holes, and no transportation other than the potential Tampa/Orlando high speed rail line which will not serve that local area? So far the county hasn’t come up with a good reason.

Community advocate Terry Flott has attended the I-4 Corridor study meetings from the beginning. She has questioned why the county won’t put this high tech corridor in the urban area where infrastructure already exists. She reminds them that there are millions of sq ft of vacant office space already built within the urban sector. She also reminds them that they already tried an overlay along I-75 and it still sits today undeveloped. Jim Hosler of the South Hillsborough Economic Development Council questioned why they didn’t look at south county. Many other citizens showed up to the hearing to voice their discontent with the county’s bizarro planning efforts. One by one they got up and told the commission that the plan would create more sprawl and they didn’t want it. They said the only thing “green” about the Green Tech Corridor was the “green-washing” it got from the county. Balm community advocate Marcella O’Steen told the audience that bad amendments like this are the reason we should vote for Florida Hometown Democracy/Amendment 4 so that we can have veto power over crazy plans like this one.

Aluotto admits to the commission that the proposed green tech area will not be developed for years. He no sooner finishes saying that and Commissioner Jim (We must keep building or we’ll die) Norman pleads with his colleagues to approve the amendment because people need jobs right now. Don’t try and figure that one out (it won't generate jobs for years, but we need to quickly get it approved to reduce current unemployment?) Remember, you’re in Bizarrough County and Norman helped write the Bizzaro Code many years ago.

Sensing that Bizarrians were about to revolt, the commission decided to go back and tweek the plan a little. Will they move the entire corridor to the urban sector or to south county, where it makes more sense? NOT!!!

Many feel that even though economic development is in bold print on the face of this amendment, the way this thing went down reaks of a desire on the part of development interests to expand commercial/industrial/residential development into the rural area. With the rural area being the prime target, the county will never change the location of this thing. And when they go through their so-called tweeking process, developers will no doubt end up getting even more favorable terms. Let's see what they come back with in the 60 day revision period that was scheduled.

It is apparent now that Bizarrough County is using different theorems for managing growth than you will find in any land-use planning textbook…”it’s not sprawl, if it’s planned properly”. Keep that in mind as you pass by ghost-town subdivisions and/or sit in traffic on failed roads.

Image credit: Bizarroworld.com