Few people seeking to store circus and carnival equipment at their homes in Tropical Acres actually spoke during a recent public meeting on the issue.
The neighbors who oppose a plan to legally allow such storage, however, came out by the dozens.
About 40 property owners in the rural large-lot neighborhood east of Balm-Riverview Road requested a rezoning in 2011 to be added to the county’s Residential Show Business Overlay. It was then that the opposition first reared its head.
As a compromise, the Hillsborough County Development Services Department came up with an amendment to the land-use code that would allow storage of items such as food trailers, game trailers and tractor-trailers at the homes, with restrictions.
The Gibsonton and Riverview areas have been home to dozens of carnival and circus folk, their equipment and their acts for about 80 years.
“We’re not doing any zoning here,” county planner John Healy told the residents who showed up at the Riverview Civic Center on March 7.
Instead, the land-use code amendment is meant to be a middle ground. The allowance will only be effective for people who have been storing equipment on their property since June 2011 and only if they apply for it, Healy said. And the allowance will not be expanded.
The land-use designation will only last until the equipment is voluntarily removed or has been sitting unused for a long time. And screening is required.
That plan is “rewarding illegal behavior,” said attorney Michelle Drab, who is representing homeowners in some of the newer nearby deed-restricted communities.
Landowners in the Tropical Acres community have been ignoring the code for years, Drab said. Code enforcement should fine them instead of changing the rules to accommodate them, she said.
She and others said they have no reason to believe county code enforcement will check to ensure the rules are followed, since they haven’t done so in the past.
Zoe Fackler lives in Tropical Acres and opposes the land-use code amendment.
“The mom and pop hotdog stand isn’t the issue,” she said. “It is the larger uses,” like people working on tractor-trailers and spilling hydraulic fluid on the ground. Or, rows of port-o-potties and RVs where carnival people are living.
When she moved to Tropical Acres she didn’t see any carnival or circus equipment because the carnies were on the road, Fackler said. Had she known, she would not have purchased her house there, she said.
“All of a sudden we've got rows of port-o-potties that you can see from Balm-Riverview Road, big tarps held on six-foot chain-link fences. One right after the other, in come the trucks and the RV's,” Fackler said.
“The carnival people are not going to leave,” said Joey Even who said he owns seven properties in Tropical Acres, along with two portable toilets. He is an employee of Arnold Amusements, Inc. “We’re trying to get it done legally.”
Even said he invited a county contingent on to his property last year and there did not appear to be any major issues with how he was using his land.
Kristy Deaton, who lives in a nearby deed-restricted community, said she is concerned about property values dipping even lower than they already have. The amendment would allow for the proliferation of even more carnival and circus equipment storage, she said.
“We don’t want to be cast as the demons here,” countered Dave Rivera. “Nobody is proposing to put a Ferris wheel up in those neighborhoods. We don’t want to be ostracized and singled out as the root of all problems” in that area.
Healy explained that there would be no proliferation and that a proposed comprehensive plan amendment, if approved, would state that all future show business zoning would only be allowed in Gibsonton, where most of it is now.
The land-use code amendment will get two public hearings before the Hillsborough County Commission. The first one is scheduled for 6 p.m. March 21 on the second floor of the County Center, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. The second hearing is scheduled for April 11 at which time the commission will consider adoption. Public comment will be taken at both meetings.
The comprehensive plan amendment on future additions to the overlay is scheduled for April 8 on the 18th floor of the county center.