What's next for the I-4 high-tech corridor?
SEFFNER - For the better part of two years, numerous Hillsborough County planners and economists have converged to devise a plan for a high-tech business corridor between Tampa and Plant City. In the process, they included a segment of rural lands running through Seffner and Dover as a way to offer large parcels to high-tech companies wanting to relocate here. An overlay district for that expanse, called the "green tech expansion area" would have allowed businesses to locate in the rural area under strict, green building standards if they were willing to foot the bill to extend water and sewer lines to the site. But as time drew closer for a vote, rural voices against the plan grew louder and louder in protest of the intrusion.The county's economic development staff, on the other hand, pushed for smaller parcel requirements that would make it easier to attract companies to the rural area. In the end, the grand plan fizzled under a 3-3 tie vote of the county commission that may have left another long-term plan for that corridor dead in its tracks. Commissioner Kevin Beckner was not present for the vote. Commissioner Jim Norman, a champion for the high-tech corridor, has little hope the green-tech expansion area will again gain momentum. "It'll be five, 10 years before anybody approaches that again," Norman said. "The emphasis next will be the high speed rail coming down that corridor. The focus will switch. I can't see this board taking it back up any time soon." To say the least, Norman said, he's disappointed. Heather Lamboy, the Planning Commission project manager for the corridor, said she isn't hearing any rumblings to quickly resurrect the plan. "Plant City and Tampa, with their sections of the corridor, will keep rolling along," Lamboy said. "I'm not so heart broken the green tech expansion area did not get passed, because it was so controversial," Lamboy said. "But there are opportunities that will be lost. Standards for the corridor called for a higher level of urban design (in the rural area) than what is currently required," Lamboy said And that will be lost. Businesses can still locate in the rural area, but they are limited to major interchanges and 30,000 square feet, or about half the size of a small supermarket, Lamboy said. "The reason it's so disappointing for me is that I've been trying to create a corridor for jobs along that corridor for 15 years," Norman said. "It was going to be done and implemented in 2000, 2001. Letters go all the way back years." Norman said it was not his intent to ruin neighborhoods, as some rural residents had suggested. But, rather, it makes sense to locate businesses, instead of pastures, farm fields and homes, along the interstate. The rural people fought against it, he said, and when the county tries to do infill in the urban areas, the neighbors are against it there, too, so nothing gets accomplished. The danger of letting the plan die, said County Commissioner Al Higginbotham, "is that we leave it open to residential and well and septic tanks, which is not what we want there. The main issue is connecting Tampa with Orlando to give us economic development. I think we want that kind of high visibility" to draw business here. "I am absolutely for good growth, but it has to occur in a responsible manner," said Commissioner Rose Ferlita, who voted against the green tech expansion area. "We have got pockets on the Tampa side and Plant City side, that's where we want dense growth to go," Ferlita said. If the county makes it too easy for businesses to move into the rural area, that's where they'll go and to the county's financial peril, she said. If she and others had gone along with allowing 30-acre business sites in the rural areas, as the county's economic staff had recommended, it would have been expensive for the county to service water and sewer lines running to the businesses, she said. "We have to justify costs," she said. "We have to have businesses go where it is the cheapest to go for the county and it's still not sprawl."
Reporter Yvette C. Hammett can be reached at (813) 627-4763.