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County development plan put on hold
The County Commission will wait until as late as September to discuss contentious proposals.
By RODNEY THRASH, Times Staff Writer
Published February 8, 2008
TAMPA - For weeks, Hillsborough taxpayers have spent long nights in meetings with planners as they weighed changes to a plan that dictates the county's long-term growth.
They've driven from far-flung communities such as Keystone, Lithia and Seffner to protect their rural lifestyle from the encroachment of subdivisions and retail development.
Thursday, more than a week after planners recommended against many of the proposals, the County Commission was to have the final say. Instead, it delayed discussion on four proposals until later this month. And four others were postponed until September, an unprecedented delay.
Never before has the County Commission granted landowners such a long continuance. Usually, the applicant has to withdraw, then reapply, starting over.
"It is something that deviates from our own procedures," said Commissioner Rose Ferlita, who joined Commissioner Mark Sharpe in voting against the postponement.
Tampa lawyer Vin Marchetti, who represented several of the developers, asked for the extra time, saying his clients needed it to work with the citizens most affected by the proposals.
"We heard the public debate," he said. "My client said, 'OK. Let's try to work with the communities involved.'"
Also, Marchetti said, if his clients withdrew their applications, they wouldhave to again pay substantial fees. That's unfair, he argued, noting they were trying to reduce the impact of their plans.
Ferlita didn't buy it.
"The Planning Commission said no to you, so now you've decided at the eleventh hour that's fundamentally unfair," she said. "It sends the wrong message to our community."
For those who have spent hours in previous hearings, the vote seemed unfair.
"It's a means to wear people down," said Terry Flott, head of United Citizens Action Network, a consortium of neighborhood groups against many of the changes. "Every single citizen in this county that believes in proper due process, fair and balanced process should be outraged."