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Riverview gathers to find its identity

They know it's only a wish list, but residents are molding a vision to keep their hamlet from becoming just a suburb.

By ANGELA MOORE

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2001


RIVERVIEW -- In a seafoam green room that looks too much like a small church's fellowship hall to be saddled with the name "Riverview Civic Center," the future's being discussed.

In this south Hillsborough community where expensive new housing developments rub elbows with 20-year-old mobile home parks, and developers have plans for every large tract of land that isn't a farm, the future is always discussed.

But in the past, the people who live in Riverview weren't the people who decided the future. In the past, local politicos from Tampa or Brandon made the decisions. The people in Riverview had to live with them. Much more is at stake nowadays, with talk of the county pumping out of the precious Alafia River to solve the water woes, and with residents who find themselves in traffic jams where there was no traffic 10 years ago.

So Thursday, a dozen or so "Riverviewians" gathered for the first meeting of the Riverview Civic Association, a brand new organization dedicated to finding the community's center, its voice and deciding its future.

There were old-guard "Riverviewians" like Jim Johnson, a long-time resident and president of the Greater Riverview Chamber of Commerce. And there were newbies like Terry and John Bakas, who haven't lived there for two years yet. There was Sandra Rossiter, whose grandfather helped establish the park around the Civic Center, and there was William Lorenzen, the vice president of the new association who has lived in one of the newer subdivisions in Riverview for six years.

The group was an interesting mix of 30-something environmentalists, soccer moms and socially conscious senior citizens.

They had a loose agenda, but they didn't stick to it. They sat on metal folding chairs in a circle and took turns calling out their ideas. Everybody was worried about growth.

"It's critical that citizens who live here have some input on the way we develop here," Johnson said. "It didn't happen in Carrollwood, it didn't happen in Brandon, and look what happened there."

It took contaminated water to convince Suzann Mathias to get involved. Hers was one of the many private wells contaminated with bacteria after a sinkhole opened in Lake Grady. Nearly a month of using bottled water overcame 15 years of living quietly and apathetically in Riverview.

"Environmental issues are very key to me because of everything I went through," Mathias said.

It wasn't all serious and policy-oriented. Once they got revved up, they started making a pie-in-the-sky wish list for Riverview.

Terry Bakas and Johnson envisioned a Hyde Park Village or Davis Islands-type main street area, with antique shops and sidewalk cafes.

"I want entertainment," said Angie Dalrymple, president of the fledgling association. "You know, outdoor concerts, blues festivals, cultural events. Things like that."

It'll take some time before the rest of Hillsborough County sees Riverview as a cultural mecca. The civic association knows that. First, it has to register with the county's Neighborhood Relations Board before it can be recognized as a legitimate group.

The second order of business, the group decided, was to define exactly where Riverview begins and ends. It seems no one, not even the county's planning commission, can agree on that one. Then the group needs bylaws, and dues, and insurance and about a million other little things before it can start thinking about sidewalk cafes and music festivals. But it doesn't hurt to dream a little.

"What I love about this town is it has a sense of self," Bakas said. "This isn't south Brandon, this isn't just somewhere on the outskirts of Tampa. This is a place."

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