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Final drafts completed in plans for rural growth

Lutz and Keystone activists hammer out rules to allow development while preserving as much of the natural settings as possible.

By JOSH ZIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 24, 2001


KEYSTONE -- Finishing touches were put this week on two ambitious proposals aimed at preserving rural lifestyles in Lutz and Keystone, culminating more than a year of frustrating work.

Although the community plan process faltered and nearly broke down over goals, county planners and rural activists eventually changed focus -- with good results. Instead of trying to write new rural development rules for the entire county, they concentrated on standards for just those two areas.

At the end of a spirited 21/2-hour meeting on Thursday, rural activists seemed satisfied that they had rebuffed most objections from the development community while emphasizing their stances on sidewalks, street lighting and design standards.

The final drafts they reviewed Thursday will go before the city-county Planning Commission in early July. If the proposals pass review, they will then go before the County Commission for final approval.

Between now and September, Lutz Civic Association president Denise Layne expects both sides to be busy lobbying their positions with the county commissioners. "Behind the scenes we'll be working with them," she said.

Joseph Narkiewicz, executive vice president of the Builders Association of Greater Tampa, strongly opposed some of the measures but lost in most of his arguments.

"Unfortunately, we don't agree with much of what the regulations contain," he said. "The regulations up here don't appear to amount to more than deed restrictions."

The meeting was led by Paula Harvey, the county Department of Planning and Growth Management's planning and zoning division director, who is credited with reinvigorating the process by giving more power to county site reviewers.

"We had intended to have this done by December of last year," Harvey said. "We are, after a few jumpstarts, moving forward in a positive direction. Hopefully, by September we'll have regulations we can hold applicants to."

The hottest topic was sidewalks, pitting Lutz and Keystone residents -- who consider them a safety hazard and an eyesore -- against a county push to build even more of them.

Lutz and Keystone representatives said they do not oppose pedestrian access, and would settle for asphalt-covered, landscaped trails set off from the roads.

Harvey, who grew up in the country, said she understood the objection to standard concrete sidewalks. But she said that given the school district's push for a sidewalk within 2 miles of every school, she doubts anyone can dissuade the county from building them. What's more, she said, the county public works department does not have the equipment to install and maintain the less obtrusive trails.

Nor will she fight that battle for them at the County Commission. "You need to be prepared to stand up . . . and advocate that before the board," she said.

Street lights were another issue of contention.

"We have beautiful canopy all over the place," Layne said. "What are you going to do with all these street lights?"

The group settled on allowing subdivisions to ask for street lights if enough people want them.

Narkiewicz won one battle against Layne. He successfully argued business owners should be allowed to have front-of-the-store parking.

But he lost his argument against a prohibition on flat-roof commercial buildings. Narkiewicz said proposed architectural design features, which call for rural-style, angled roofs, would sharply increase the cost of buildings.

The drafts also call for prohibiting solid brick and cement walls in favor of wire and picket fences. Pole signs would be prohibited, and permitted signs would have to be externally lit.

-- Josh Zimmer covers Keystone and the environment. He can be reached at 813-226-3474.

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