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Group brainstorms about cloudy future of area

Officials and residents gather, at one point closing their eyes, thinking about goals, and then writing down their thoughts.

By MICHAEL SANDLER

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 4, 2001


CROSS CREEK -- With eyes closed and minds open, local politicians joined residents in envisioning what New Tampa might look like in years to come.

Some saw a self-contained, edge city with wider roads and small commercial districts within each residential area. Others suggested that New Tampa might someday have a government of its own.

But before the night was over, the usual topics of traffic and annexations surfaced at the monthly meeting of the New Tampa Community Council on Wednesday. And except for a brief, tense moment between two public officials, the night was safe for ideas.

"It's very nice that you can pull this together and talk about this," said County Commissioner Jim Norman, who joined City Councilman Shawn Harrison on a five-person panel during a brainstorming session.

George Faugl, Terry Wolford and Jim Davidson rounded out the panel. Ron Rotella, the mayor's special consultant on development, was among the nearly 30 people in the audience.

"It's a work in progress and we all have to be diligent in making it work," Harrison said before briefing the audience on the handful of transportation projects under way.

Lynn Grinnell, NTCC president, led the group through an exercise that involved closing eyes and thinking about the area's future. Then she asked everyone to write down their thoughts.

Using the panel's ideas, she made a master list of topics on huge sheets of paper affixed to an easel.

As the conversation flowed, Harrison and Norman urged residents to become more politically active, to vote and to attend meetings regularly. Norman noted that hundreds of residents came out in December to hear the Metropolitan Planning Organization discuss local transportation projects, but few attend County Commission meetings.

"It's a shame you don't flex your muscle," he said. "The MPO does not write the checks; the County Commission does. You all make a statement a few times, and you'll have all the politicians out here courting you instead of ignoring you."

The meeting was held just weeks after communities in Pebble Creek and Cross Creek -- the only established New Tampa subdivisions remaining in unincorporated Hillsborough County -- approached city officials about possibly annexing into Tampa. The city is also negotiating annexation agreements with attorneys representing developers for Live Oak and K-Bar ranches, parcels of unincorporated land between the city and the Pasco County line.

The evening's one tense moment came when Rotella, who has brokered most of the New Tampa annexation deals for the city, said the county approved the Live Oak project without giving complete consideration to its regional impact.

Commissioner Norman, agitated, responded by chastising the city for hastily annexing land without proper thought to the cost. He said residents will ultimately absorb the cost, not the developer. Before Rotella could answer, others quickly pacified the men and defused the dispute.

"This all comes down to this information I was talking about," said Davidson, a member of the panel, referring to a point he made during the brainstorming session.

"Ron's got his numbers. Jim's got his numbers. We are paying taxes to both."

- Michael Sandler can be reached at (813) 226-3472 or sandler@sptimes.com.

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