By B.C. Manion
Efforts began last week to develop a guide to community planning in Hillsborough County.
The goal is to develop a template that can be used by individual communities when they are drawing up plans to address the unique nature of their community.
The idea is to have a standard approach, while acknowledging distinct differences within communities, said Lisa Silva, the project manager for the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission that is heading up the project.
The guide is being developed in response to some of the findings in a March 31 audit report of the countywide planning process.
The 48-page report was completed by Cherry, Bekaert & Holland, LLP, of Tampa.
In the executive summary of the report, the auditors note: “Community plans do not have the same format or elements, adding to complexity and confusion to the development review process.”
Community planning is a tool that has been used in Hillsborough County to help individual communities guide the future development of their particular geographic area.
In theory, in places like Keystone/Odessa, where residents have battled for years to preserve the rural character of the area, a community plan can help to assure that commercial development doesn’t change the area’s nature.
The community of Lutz also has consistently been involved in planning efforts – to keep major highways and big development from overtaking the once rural and now primarily suburban community.
The county’s new guide to community planning will create a template for individual communities to follow when they are creating their individual plans or updating them, Silva said.
But the development of that guide could have a profound effect on what is considered when community plans are created. So, this exercise goes far beyond merely providing a standard format to follow.
Some key issues include:
–What should a community plan include?
–What kind of notice should be required when proposals are made to create or change community plans?
–What can be done to ensure that community planning reflects the broad interests of a community, not just the special interests of a few?
–How do individual community plans mesh with overall strategic or economic goals of the county?
–How can the county avoid mistakes made during previous community planning efforts?
–What can be done to ensure that desires of the community, as adopted in community plans, are ultimately upheld by people who issue permits for various building activities?
At the initial session, opinions were all over the map.
Some participants said that previous community planning efforts have gone too far – by including restrictions that prohibit the practical use of property. Others said that community plans were adopted without enough public notice or participation.
Steve Morris of Keystone said the community plan does a good job of reflecting the community’s desires. Keystone is happy with its plan, Morris said.
Its biggest problem, he said, is making sure the plan is enforced by the people who issue county permits.
Last week’s meeting was just the first in a series to hash out a new community planning guide.
Ultimately, the Hillsborough County Commission will vote on the community planning guide. That vote is expected in the fall.