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Village plan proponents win county's okay

Delaying the decision didn't help opponents. County commissioners were persuaded - unanimously.

By JOSH ZIMMER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 23, 2003


CITRUS PARK -- At one point last summer, critics of the Citrus Park Village Plan were persuasive enough to stop the process in its tracks.

Taken off-guard by community dissension, the Hillsborough County Commission delayed a final decision on the plan so homeowners and planners could take another stab at ironing out their differences.

The extra time apparently worked. On Thursday night, parties to the effort presented a largely united front to the commissioners, leaving opponents in the cold. By unanimous vote commissioners agreed to include the 820-acre village concept in the county's comprehensive land use plan, the guidebook for all development in Hillsborough.

"There we go!" Bill Billingsly said right after the vote. His family owns property along Ehrlich Road and the Upper Tampa Bay Trail, potentially some of most lucrative land covered by the plan.

The vote was the first step in making the village plan a reality. Later this year, the commission will propose new regulations in the county's land development code that will give the plan its teeth.

The plan encompasses an area from Citrus Park Drive on the south to the Veterans Expressway on the east, Sheldon Road/Gunn Highway on the west and an area stretching east from S. Mobley Road on the north.

It envisions a strong intermingling of business and residential space in a traditional neighborhood environment where people can easily walk from place to place. The area, broken into building zones, will allow neighborhoods to develop differently. Mixed uses are particularly encouraged around the Upper Tampa Bay Trail and the central village section surrounding Ehrlich Road and Gunn Highway, the main thoroughfare through Citrus Park.

Some homeowners and activists remained unconvinced the plan would be the best recipe for Citrus Park's future. As they have for the past two years, they argued that the plan would lead to overdevelopment and an erosion of Citrus Park's small-town neighborhood atmosphere.

Provisions in the plan allowing buildings up to 45 feet in height, and in some cases high densities, remain sore points .

"I wish I could be in favor of this plan tonight," said Janet Hiltz, a steering committee member and one of only two people to speak against approval. "We envisioned nothing higher than two stories on the main street (Ehrlich). The densities are higher than we envisioned. We want to have a nice little village."

But Hiltz and Jean Carson were drowned out by a chorus of support that clearly impressed the commissioners.

"Future development is going to happen with or without this plan in place," Kathy Ciccarello said. "Without the plan it's anybody's game."

Bruce Walling said the plan had the backing of the Oldsmar/Upper Tampa Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce, which includes Citrus Park.

Calling the plan "overdue," he said the changes would "set the stage for the redevelopment of the Citrus Park area."

Carson said opponents are not the minority they appeared to be, but added they "are giving up." Hiltz repeated the oft-heard accusation that some larger property owners were supporting the plan simply because they want to sell off their land for big profits.

That possibility doesn't bother Billingsly. His family bought the original 20 acres in the late-1930s for a grand total of $680.

"Wouldn't you think after 64 years you ought to realize some kind of profit?" he said.

-- Josh Zimmer covers Keystone/Odessa, Citrus Park and the environment. He can be reached at 269-5314 or zimmer@sptimes.com .

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