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Town meeting focuses on development

The two-hour meeting gave Hillsborough County commissioners a chance to hear the concerns of residents in one of the fastest growing communities.

By JOSH ZIMMER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 28, 2002

CITRUS PARK -- Traffic, water and schools dominated a wide-open discussion Thursday night between residents and the Hillsborough County Commission.

The commission, minus member Chris Hart, sat before a crowd of about 150 during one of the board's periodic forays into county neighborhoods. Residents converged upon Sickles High School eager to air their issues and, in some cases, simply to learn more about their local government.

"I'm starting to take an interest in what's going on in my community," Margaret Vieux, of Northdale, said before the meeting. "I'm watching, learning."

The two-hour town meeting, set up in a question-and-answer format with the commissioners seated as a group below the auditorium stage, took place in one of Hillsborough's fastest-growing areas.

Although most participants asked about problems in their own neighborhoods, in a broad sense the main topics revolved around the stresses of rapid development.

"We have a lot of growing pains but a lot of things have happened in the Northwest," said Commissioner Jim Norman, who represents the area but is running for an at-large seat because of term limits. "You are one of the most active communities I've ever been able to work with."

The commissioners also came well prepared, often directing questions to county staff, who comprised about one-third of the crowd.

At times residents simply attacked what they viewed as bureaucratic inefficiency.

Lynette Peel of Town 'N Country complained about outdated codes, prompting Community Improvement Director Don Shea to explain that a proposed community plan might offer them a separate set of codes.

When Keystone's Jim Swain complained that important zoning documents were being lost, Commission Chairwoman Pat Frank and Commissioner Rhonda Storms said they would like to see zoning files stored in a computer.

Susan Edgerly of Westchase said the county needs another east-west road, citing the fast-paced housing construction around Race Track Road and Nine Eagles Drive.

While old plans expanding Citrus Park Drive are no longer on the table, Public Works Director Bernardo Garcia described a variety of road projects to Edgerly and others.

The county, he said, could award contracts soon on a $36-million road-widening project on Race Track between S. Mobley Road and Hillsborough Avenue. A $11.5-million road widening on a quarter-mile stretch of Gunn Highway around Sickles should be completed by 2005, with a new traffic-calming program to kick in on Oct. 1.

From Lutz came concerns about the stretch of Lutz-Lake Fern Road in front of McKitrick Elementary and Martinez Middle School. Residents asked that residential development be halted near the joint school site because traffic is already congested.

Commissioners asked Public Works staff to look into the problem.

Norman, meanwhile, promised to speak with the Florida Department of Transportation about hastening the addition of a Lutz Lake-Fern ramp onto the Suncoast Parkway.

Addressing questions about the water shortage, commissioners said they hoped new agreements to build a 25-million-gallon-a-day desalination plant in Apollo Beach and reduce groundwater pumping from 158 million-gallonsa day to 121 million-gallons would help alleviate the strain on supply. Residents in the Northwest, where underground wells have been overpumped for years, are particularly sensitive to the issue.

Citrus Park resident Janet Hiltz bemoaned the continued loss of wide open spaces to growth.

"Right now we're very concerned about the loss of water (and trees)," she said.

Frank said balancing the environment with development interests is difficult. However, "I think we're very conscious when we get these zoning proposals before us."

-- Josh Zimmer covers Keystone, Citrus Park and the environment. He can be reached at 269-5314.

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