TAMPA - The Hillsborough County Commission made history and satisfied Sun City Center residents Thursday by approving an age restriction that prevents young families from living at the retirement mecca.
The 5-2 vote, with commissioners Jan Platt and Kathy Castor dissenting, makes Hillsborough the first county on the nation's East Coast to adopt a zoning restriction based on age, and only the second in the country.
The ordinance requires that one member of all 5,700 Sun City Center households governed by the community association be at least 55. Anyone younger than 19 can visit no more than 30 days a year.
Residents living in the homes before Thursday's adoption are exempt, and exceptions can be made for family emergencies such as a sudden death or illness.
The vote elicited hearty applause from the more than 50 residents who came to the meeting.
"This is a symbol that Hillsborough County stood by Sun City Center," said Commissioner Jim Norman, a leading advocate for the hard-fought measure. "This is not an intrusion by government; this is a protection by government."
Leaders of the Sun City Center community association have worked with planning and zoning staff for almost a year to get the age restriction before commissioners.
They say the county has a responsibility to protect its residents, and they see the age restriction as a means of protecting the lifestyle of Sun City Center, where golf carts and lawn bowling reign.
Although the ordinance applies to all of the homes governed by the association, most already have deed restrictions specifying the over-55 age requirement.
So the county has to enforce its zoning code in about four dozen homes that currently lack such age covenants - in most cases because the original covenants expired.
Code enforcement officials estimate it will cost about $900 a year to monitor those homes. The cost could drop over time, as the community association gets owners of all the homes without age restrictions to sign a new age covenant, which would prevail over any county rule. In the past few months, the number of homes without age restrictions has dropped from 51 to 47.
Commissioner Ronda Storms said $900 a year in code enforcement is a small price to pay, considering how much Sun City Center residents help county law enforcement and fire-rescue with their voluntary safety patrol and emergency response team.
Sun City Center leaders say they pursued the county's help only because they don't want real estate agents to take advantage of the remaining homes without age covenants by selling them to couples with children.
Castor opposed the ordinance because she believes there are other priorities for the county, including "substandard housing and existing zoning rules that go unenforced."
Platt commended residents for their hard work on the ordinance but said she could not "in good conscience" embrace it.
"It's an unwarranted intrusion of government into your private lives," she said. Arizona's Maricopa County, home to another Del Webb retirement community called Sun City West, is the only other county with such a zoning provision. Its restriction allows visitors 18 and younger to stay for up to 90 days a year.