Zoning idea gets no support

Published May 30, 2007

TAMPA - City zoning hearings are notorious for going late into the night. Until midnight, or 1 a.m.

Newly elected City Council member Tom Scott, a former county commissioner, wants to change that by having a zoning officer or board vet petitions before they get to the City Council.

But his idea got little support at a workshop Tuesday from neighborhood leaders and other City Council members, who say it will add time and money to rezonings and place a buffer between the public and their elected officials.

Scott defended the idea.

"It's not another layer, " he said. "It's streamlining."

He said the hearing officer would allow developers and neighborhood groups to work out their differences in a public hearing before they come to the City Council. And when petitions do come before the council, they will be complete. As it is now, developers often ask to reschedule hearings because they're not ready.

Assistant City Attorney Julia Cole told the council that Tampa is the only similarly sized government in Florida she knows of that doesn't use the type of process supported by Scott.

But that didn't impress council member John Dingfelder.

"So be it, " he said. "I like this process. It's government very close to the people."

Seminole Heights neighborhood activist Gary Ellsworth said the change would be more work for him because he would have to go to two hearings on every petition - one with the hearing officer and one with the council.

"I see a lot of advantages for you. I'm not sure what the advantage is to me, " Ellsworth said.

Council member Linda Saul-Sena said she didn't like the idea of adding up to 60 days to the zoning process and another expense to the already tight city budget.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or 813 226-3401.