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Vote puts planning process in doubt

After seven years and a second ballot, Port Tampa still can't get 75 percent of voters to approve a new master plan.

By RON MATUS
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 5, 2002


PORT TAMPA -- The second time wasn't the charm.

A majority of Port Tampa residents voted to approve a neighborhood master plan last week, but it wasn't the 75 percent needed for the plan to pass.

Supporters got 56 percent -- just slightly more than they got last year when the plan went before residents the first time.

"A lot of people put a lot of time and energy into the plan," said a disappointed Jill Buford, president of the Port Tampa Civic Association.

"It's sad that so many people waited until (the night of the vote) to show they didn't like parts of it."

It remains to be seen whether Port Tampa's experience will ripple into other neighborhoods.

Or whether it will prompt the Tampa City Council to revisit its plan-making rules -- including a 75 percent threshold for approval.

Port Tampa was the first Tampa neighborhood to begin work on a master plan, which has been billed as part blueprint, part wish list for guiding city decisions on everything from development to housing to roads. City officials say the plans let powers that be know what neighborhoods want and don't want.

"Some neighborhoods want infill, some just want to be left alone," said Julie Harris, the city's neighborhood liaison. "It's their vision we use as a guide."

In recent years other neighborhoods, including Ballast Point and Davis Islands, have started crafting their own plans.

But what happened in Port Tampa might give them pause.

Supporters began work in 1995. They plugged away at workshop after workshop. At one point, passions ran so high, police were called in to monitor meetings.

"It was horrible," Harris said.

The end result: an 87-page plan that didn't get approval.

But supporters kept at it. They reached out to more community groups. They met with opponents. They took out controversial positions. They changed wording.

"We took quarter words out and put in dime words," Buford said.

In the end, they distilled the new proposal to 10 pages.

It says Port Tampa wants to continue to be racially diverse. It wants a mix of housing types.

It wants industry to stay.

It wants more options for alternative transportation. It supports the conservation of environmentally sensitive land.

At its most specific, the plan asks for an alternative route for the trucks that carry fuel, wallboard and concrete pilings through the neighborhood on Interbay Boulevard. It doesn't list any potential alternatives.

Some former opponents liked the changes.

"It needed a more democratic voice," said Lianne Monteiro, 65, who became a member of the planning committee after voting no the first time.

And that's what it got, she said.

But it still didn't pass.

Of the 131 residents who voted, 57 said no.

Ann Cannon said she didn't trust the "newcomers" pushing the plan.

"It will lead to a deed-restricted community," she said.

Fred Cross, 44, feared it would bring too much growth.

"This used to be the best little secret," he said.

Land is cheap in this blue-collar enclave. Developers know that better than anybody.

But some of those voting yes said having a plan was the best way to stop developments residents don't want.

"This will give (residents) more say-so," said Alfred Larcom, Port Tampa born-and-raised.

What's next?

Buford, with the civic association, said the group's board may adopt the plan. But she acknowledged it wouldn't carry as much weight as an OK from the whole community.

Harris, the city liaison, said the City Council probably will discuss the Port Tampa vote later this month. Council members have discussed the 75 percent rule before, but the time may be ripe to revisit it.

Meanwhile, other neighborhoods will continue working on their plans, despite what happened in Port Tampa.

"We're concerned but not discouraged," said Jerry Miller, chairman of the planning board for Ballast Point.

Miller said residents there began work last year and expect to have a draft ready for scrutiny in six months.

He said organizers used a nine-page mail survey, which was filled out by hundreds of residents, as a starting point.

Whether that helps Ballast Point go where Port Tampa couldn't is anyone's guess. The 75 percent threshold, Miller said, is "tough."

"I don't know if ours will meet with any more success," he said. "But we're sure going to try."

-- Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or matus@sptimes.com.

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