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Roundup 2-13-2015

February 13, 2015

Economic Development/Built Environment/Transportation – Adventures in Planning

Hillsborough County has a history of poor planning and not sticking to its stated plans.  This week, the Tribune had a report regarding the urban service boundary.

The last time developers and large landowners pushed to extend the boundaries of the county’s urban service area was September 2007. At the time, the planning commission recommended against expansion, saying there were 15,500 acres of developable land available inside the existing urban service area — enough to handle population growth through 2025.

But now, with new population projections in hand, the planning commission staff is recommending that the urban boundaries be expanded in three areas totaling over 16,000 acres, about 25 square miles. The recommendation comes on the heels of a recent planning commission study called Imagine 2040, which projects the county will grow by 600,000 people in the next 25 years.

“What we looked at in our Imagine 2040 outreach process was how to accommodate that growth,” said Melissa Zornitta, the planning commission’s executive director.

“We heard from a lot of people who said they want to focus on opportunities for redevelopment and infill. But we did hear from some folks who said they wanted to have choices, opportunities for a suburban lifestyle.”

First, there is no lack of the suburban experience within the urban services boundary already.  That is in no way a justification for expanding it.  Second, who really wants this expansion other than people who want to profit from land outside the boundary?  Apparently, not the County Commission.

White, whose district includes two of the expansion zones — 6,678 acres in the Balm area and 9,374 acres south of the Little Manatee River — said the expansion would involve building miles of sewer and water lines into rural areas where population is sparse. He and other critics say such urban sprawl ultimately is subsidized by taxpayers.

The expanded urban service areas would also put more pressure on an “already strained transportation system,” White said, at a time when the county is trying to find ways to make up a $7 billion deficit in road and bridge needs.

“How can we talk about the transportation problem out of one side of our mouth, and then continue with this almost reckless sprawl,” White said Monday during a meeting with the Tribune editorial board.

Instead, White said, the county should concentrate on redevelopment of blighted areas and filling in developable land already inside the urban service boundary.

“We need a lot of revitalization efforts in our older communities,” he said.

And

A move to expand the urban service boundaries is sure to arouse opposition from environmentalists and other community activists who helped defeat the last attempt in 2007. Besides White, Commissioner Al Higginbotham expressed doubts about the proposal’s chance of passing.

“There is no support from the staff to expand it,” Higginbotham said, “nor do I see this board ever voting to support that.”

Commissioner Sandy Murman said she’s waiting to see what the planning commission recommends before making a decision. She pointed to an economic prosperity committee she chaired several years ago that recommended creating economic development areas along existing or planned thoroughfares or mass transit. None of the economic development areas were outside the urban service areas.

“We thought by urbanizing these areas where we already had pockets of development, that would lessen sprawl to a degree by creating more suburban development that would be inside the urban service area,” Murman said. “We have to be very careful with anything that has to do with extending the urban service area.”

One gets the distinct impression that the Commissioners are not for it. So what prompted the look?

The Hillsborough planning commission staff has already drawn up comprehensive plan amendments for two of the expansion areas — 72 acres in Lutz and the 6,678 acres in the Balm area southeast of Riverview. The amendments will be discussed by the planning commission at an April 27 public hearing.

The area in Lutz, near the apex of U.S. 41 and North Dale Mabry Highway, is surrounded on three sides by the urban service area, Zornitta said. It is currently zoned for four housing units per acre.

“It’s not something that really fits with the rural area based on its land-use category,” she said.

The area under consideration in Balm is designated as rural but long ago was zoned to allow planned villages of two housing units per acre — provided the builder paid to have water and sewer extended to the villages. Some of that development is already happening, Zornitta said.

“From a planning perspective, two units per acre is not using the land and the infrastructure wisely,” she said. “It’s eating up the rural area, but not in an efficient way.”

The largest area under consideration for urban services, 9,374 acres between the Little Manatee River and the Manatee County line, is not ready for hearings or workshops. The planning commission staff and the county’s Development Services Department are working with a group of large landowners who want to develop some of the area while preserving its environmental features.

The largest of the landowners is a development group associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Rhea Law, the attorney representing the church, could not be reached for comment.

Setting aside that Lutz was supposed to be rural (that’s why the Veterans Expressway does not connect to I-275) but has clearly been allowed to not be rural (that fine planning again, not to mention the Balm area), so what?  The whole point of the urban services boundary is to provide proper planning and keep the taxpayer from subsidizing development and the maintenance of that development.  If people own the land outside the boundary, ok.  That does not create an obligation to have development there.  This is about planning so how will expanding the boundary help transportation for which the County already cannot pay? Help the built environment?  Lower long term maintenance costs for the taxpayer? If and when the urban service area is full, maybe then it should be expanded – but not now.

The point is this: either there is planning or there is not.  As shown in the Lutz example above, Hillsborough County has none.  It pronounces policies with one hand, then completely ignores them with the other.  It is no wonder that there is no money for fixing transportation – there is no logic to how the County is built.  It has been an ad hoc sprawlfest.

As noted in the Tribune editorial we quoted last week, just because things have been done one way traditionally, does not mean it should continue.  Even the Commissioners, who have loved subsidizing sprawl, are not on board.  Hopefully, they will stick with that position because it is well past time to actually stick to a plan.

Transportation – Enter the Public

It seems that the outsourced transportation workshops are about to start.

“Go Hillsborough,” the county’s effort to learn what types of transportation improvements residents would support, will hold its first community workshops this month.

The county on Thursday released a schedule of 36 public meetings and workshops that will be held around Hillsborough. The first meeting will be Feb. 17 at Mount Olive AME Church in North Hyde Park, followed a meeting Feb. 19 by a meeting at the Town ‘N Country Regional Library. The rest of the meeting schedule can be found at www.hillsboroughcounty .org.

For those who can’t make the meetings, Go Hillsborough will communicate through Facebook, Twitter, an I-Neighborhood smartphone app and a dedicated telephone number.

The outreach effort, which will last through mid-May, is an attempt to reach consensus on transportation and mass transit projects that will cost billions of dollars. The county doesn’t have that kind of money, and the final transportation plan will likely require a tax increase that will go before voters in November 2016.

So now the process will stretch to May, not April.  Nothing like more delay.  Here is the list of meetings.  One thing you may note is that, even with all the meetings, there are areas that do not really have a convenient meeting.

In any event, what is the structure of the meetings?

The interactive public meetings will be split into two phases. The first, called “Voices,” will include 12 workshops, four larger meetings to provide geographic context, and two telephone town hall meetings. The Voices phase will culminate in an “Issues and Opportunities” report.

The second round of 18 meetings, called “Choices,” will delve further into potential transportation options. This phase will try to identify areas of agreement among communities. Once community needs and desires are understood, strategy and funding options will be recommended for the community transportation plan.

As we have said, public input is good, especially if it is actually considered, but this should have been done at the beginning by the County.  Nevertheless, now it is what we have.  Hopefully, it will be useful.

Transportation – The PTC Sues, But Still Cannot Justify

While we really would love to never write about the PTC because it is such a stronghold of stagnant thinking, we feel compelled this week because it has made another move against ridesharing:

Even with threats and fines, Hillsborough County hasn’t been able to get ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft off the streets.

Now it wants a judge to shut them down.

The county on Wednesday joined cities such as Las Vegas, Miami and Portland, Ore., in calling for the court system’s support in the ongoing battle between regulators and ride-share companies.

Board members voted during Wednesday’s Public Transportation Commission meeting to pursue injunctive relief against Uber and Lyft after both ride-share companies failed to comply with a cease-and-desist letter issued at the end of December.

So what was the justification?

County Commissioner Ken Hagan said that although he thinks “there is no question this technology is the way of the future,” something has to be done to force Uber and Lyft to cooperate and take part in negotiations.

“I, for one, am not going to tolerate just ignoring our laws and refusing to comply,” Hagan said.

Of course, there were negotiations – just not successful ones.  And people should follow the rules, but the rules should make sense.  Good government requires not having arbitrary rules that are made to favor one party over another and ignores the good of the public at large.  And minimum pricing does not make sense. (And where are all the reforms the PTC was supposed to put in place?  Why not lower fees to help people enter the business and compete?) So is there something else that is the real reason for the PTC’s action?

Leaders of the taxi industry celebrated quietly after the motion passed Wednesday, slapping each other on the back and whispering excited congratulations.

Yes, to protect the status quo and the cab companies from competition, which can be seen in another lawsuit involving minimum pricing for limos:

Then Rob Brazel, the county’s managing attorney, spoke on behalf of the transportation commission and in favor of the minimum fare. He said limos act like cabs when they’re not busy, and without the minimum, they would pick up regular cab customers for basic rides rather than just ritzy transportation —- an unfair competition, he said.

He argued that the commission should continue to regulate limo fares because the Legislature should make those regulatory choices. Those “who are affected by them,” like Black Pearl, should not.

So providing nicer rides at the same price, which the PTC has admitted numerous times is what the consumers want, is “unfair.”. And ridesharing is even more competition (if people did not want ridesharing, it would not be an issue.)  The reason people choose such services is because they are considered better than the cabs.  But, clearly from its actions, the PTC’s focus in not on the consumers.

Transportation – The Bizarreness of the Ferry

There was more news about the bizarre tale of the Ferry.  As you might recall, everyone was very happy with the Ferry idea until the Audubon Society came out against the proposed location for the ferry stop/terminal in South County for environmental reasons.

Audubon’s opposition caused the Hillsborough County commissioners to back off their previous support for the project and order a search for alternative sites. The county had planned to appear on behalf of the project before the board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which owns the preserve land. But after Audubon announced its opposition, the county pulled the item from the board’s agenda.

Now, the Port apparently does not like the location either.

Port Tampa Bay is the latest agency to oppose building a high-speed ferry terminal on state-owned conservation lands in south Hillsborough County.

President and chief executive officer A. Paul Anderson said Friday he and other port officials think a proposed ferry terminal site on the Fred and Idah Schultz Preserve would endanger maritime traffic.

The preserve is next door to Port Redwing, where the port authority has plans to create a cluster of steel businesses.

“Putting a ferry in channels with active shipping is an issue that everybody should focus on,” Anderson said in an interview. “Potentially it’s an issue of safe operations in the channel for us, for the pilots, for the maritime users of the port. It’s just not the best location from an operations standpoint.”

The port’s opposition could be a serious setback for a daily ferry service between south Hillsborough and MacDill Air Force Base. In August, the environmental group Audubon of Florida criticized plans to put the ferry terminal at a preserve, where state funds totaling $2.7 million were spent restoring the land to native habitat. The Schultz property was formed with spoils from dredging.

We cannot speak to the safety issue, except to note that, as the Tribune does, there are operating ferries around other ports so the issue needs careful, unbiased investigation, and this:

“The whole thing is baffling bordering on the inexplicable,” Turanchik said. “There were no security concerns when we wanted to lease you the property but now there are?”

Others who recommended the Schultz Preserve, according to Turanchik, included Mosaic, the phosphate company that owns significant property on the bay, and Ann Paul, Audubon’s regional coordinator in the Tampa Bay area.

Paul later said she that when she made the recommendation, she didn’t understand that the ferry terminal and park would cover 20 acres and include parking for 1,500 cars.

Port Tampa Bay staff even worked with Hillsborough County to identify possible access roads to the proposed ferry terminal and park, according to a June 16 letter from Anderson to County Administrator Mike Merrill. Anderson told Merrill that though the port opposed the public using Port Redwing Road to access the ferry site, other access roads were possible.

“PTB staff has thoroughly explored possible options for access to Schultz Park to identify any other route which would be a less-direct and potentially detrimental impact on port operations,” Anderson wrote.

Yes, it is bizarre.  One would have thought that the safety issue would have been the first thing anyone would have noted about the location.  There is no indication of why it came up now.

To be clear, we do not really have a preference regarding the exact location of a ferry stop and we are not prejudging the safety issue. However, we do have an interest in having things done properly and efficiently and not dragging on forever. Our concern is the bizarre way this whole issue is going.  Why are people supporting and helping plan the service, then doing a 180?  What is actually going on – is safety really the issue or is there something else?  In any event:

Meantime, the county has completed a search for alternative sites, said County Engineer Mike Williams. The next step is to review all the sites for compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act.

“Any comments from anyone — but obviously from the port as a landowner in very close proximity — will be considered in the NEPA phase,” Williams said.

A number of sites, including the Schultz Preserve, will undergo the NEPA review. The county will hire a consultant using federal grant money to handle the study.

“We’re hoping we can do it for around $300,000,” Williams said.

The review should begin in the next couple of months, Williams said, and will take six to 12 months to complete.

Ok, so another year or more before a location is approved.  Will there then be more objections?

With this episode and the lagging of the TED process, one cannot help but ask can any transportation be properly and efficiently planned in this area?

TIA – Growth

The airport administration released numbers for the airport:

Tampa International Airport had 5.5 percent more passengers come through in the first quarter of fiscal year 2015 than last year, with the number of international passengers up 19.2 percent.

“We had a very, very good first fiscal quarter,” said Airport President and CEO Joe Lopano. Almost 4.4 million passengers came through the airport in the first quarter, beating the 2015 projected number by 160,000 passengers.

“The first three months continued the growth we saw at the end of 2014,” said Damian Brook, airport vice president of finance.

Alaska Airlines, with flights from Tampa to Seattle, filled 93 percent of its seats in October, November and December, Brook said.

Frontier Airline more than doubled its passenger traffic by introducing new destinations, he said. Frontier added flights from Tampa to Cleveland, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and to Philadelphia, a flight that has been quite popular, said Frontier spokesman Todd Lehmacher. “Overall, Tampa has been a very good destination for Frontier,” Lehmacher said.

“Every international carrier saw growth in the first quarter,” Brook said. Part of that was because international carriers offered a total of 18 percent more seats in the first quarter. Also, Copa Airlines, with flights to Panama City, Panama, came on board and Edelweiss Air AG added a second weekly flight to Zurich last year.

The airport also set a record for revenue, bringing in $49.8 million in the first quarter, Brook said. That represents a 3.5 percent increase in revenue over the same time period in 2014.

That’s all good – and Lufthansa still has not started. The proof of the director’s strategy is right there. Now, if we could just get a San Francisco nonstop.

Moreover, there is this:

JetBlue Airways has announced more flights to Cuba and Haiti.

The New York-based airline said Thursday that it would add a new charter flight to Cuba this summer.

The Friday flights from Tampa to Havana will begin June 5. Travelers have to make arrangements directly with JetBlue partner ABC Charters.

Which is good.

In other news, St. Pete-Clearwater International is also doing well.

January marked the fourth straight month for record-breaking passenger service at the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, with a 24 percent increase year over year.

In January, the airport served 106,942 passengers.

The airport served 1.2 million customers in 2014 and with seven new destinations coming on line over the next few months, it could be lining up for another record-breaker.

The number of international passengers was down for 2014 by about 3,000 passengers but in January, the airport saw a 30 percent increase in international passengers, compared to January 2014.

Excellent.

Economy – Employment Numbers

Last month, it was pretty much the same story in employment according to ADP:

After a strong finish in 2014, Florida added 14,400 private sector jobs in January, according to a report released Wednesday.

The state remains the third-best job creator in the country behind California (up 35,400 jobs) and Texas (up 25,800 jobs), according to the report, which payroll-processing company ADP releases monthly.

* * *

About 97 percent of Florida’s new positions were in the lower-paying service-providing sector, while the remainder were goods-producing. Among select industries, trade and transportation saw 2,500 new positions, business services saw 2,300, manufacturing saw 600 and natural resources and construction saw 800.

There really isn’t anything new to say about that.

Downtown – A New Police Station

It seems that Tampa may be getting a new police station in the not too distant future:

“The existing police station site has outlived its usefulness,” Mayor Bob Buckhorn told the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday. He intends to start the planning for a new police station as he puts together a budget for 2016.

One Police Center at 411 N Franklin St. is a former SunTrust Bank building that has served since Mayor Dick Greco’s administration bought it in 1996 for $2.95 million.

But the costs of maintaining the structure that Buckhorn calls “Big Blue” are on the rise, and he said “it makes no sense for me to put money into a building that’s obsolete.”

Indeed, the taxpayers’ money should not be wasted.  We have no problem with having a new police station if the present one is inefficient and expensive to maintain.  Where might a new one go?

Buckhorn said he prefers that a new police headquarters be in the urban core of the city, but he doesn’t know that it has to be in the heart of downtown’s central business district. The city could build, lease space or move into a renovated building.

Moving from one renovated building to another seems a bit odd.  Also, leasing a building for a police station also seems a bit odd.  One would think that, if money on a new station is going to be spent, the police should use a purpose built building that they control.  As far as location, we think it should be in the downtown core for a number of reasons – being close to city hall, being close to many events and providing stability downtown, central location, etc.

And what will happen to the present building?

Buckhorn expects that he will have no problem finding developers who are interested in buying the headquarters site, which includes a parking garage, and either tearing down the police building to build something new or renovating the existing structure as a private development.

That’s fine, as long as it is not the reason for the move in the first place.  It will be interesting to see how this develops.

Downtown – The Riverwalk

The next segment of the Riverwalk is getting ready to open.

After four decades, six mayors and millions of dollars, the end of construction is in sight on a high-profile piece of the Riverwalk.

Tampa officials have scheduled a March 27 grand opening for a long-desired but expensive-to-build section of the downtown trail.

Expected to join Mayor Bob Buckhorn at the 5 p.m. ceremony are former Tampa mayors Pam Iorio, Dick Greco, Sandy Freedman and Bob Martinez.

And a sixth mayor is sure to be remembered, too. Bill Poe, who started work on the Riverwalk in 1975 when he was mayor, died last May 1.

The section of the Riverwalk now nearing completion goes 1,460 feet from MacDill Park north under the Kennedy Boulevard bridge to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

* * *

Once the new segment is open, the Riverwalk will offer about 2.6 uninterrupted miles of waterfront walking, jogging and cycling.

Still to come: a section going north from the Straz Center to Water Works Park. Once the new segment is open, the Riverwalk will offer about 2.6 uninterrupted miles of waterfront walking, jogging and cycling.

Still to come: a section going north from the Straz Center to Water Works Park.

That is great.  We are happy the Riverwalk is finally going to be without interruption.  It has been a very long time coming (and too much of downtown is built to ignore the river), but it is welcome.

The only thing is that we hope the next time there is a project that enjoys a broad consensus, it does not take 40 years to get done.

Downtown/Built Environment – One Building Rising

One residential project in downtown has apparently begun construction.

Downtown Tampa’s newest apartment complex is under way.

Richman Group, based in Connecticut, has started construction on the Aurora, a five-story 351-unit apartment project at 124 S. Morgan St., just north of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway.

The article includes an updated rendering that is cropped.  This is the full rendering:

From the Richman Group – click on picture for website

As we said when it was announced, the project looks ok for somewhere outside of the core of downtown, but this lot will be in the middle of downtown if the Lightning owner’s project gets built.  In fact, it will be on a main pedestrian corridor between the core of downtown and that project.  We are not even so concerned with the height (though it does seem that it will barely clear the Selmon Expressway, which is a bit odd).  The real problem is that there is no street interaction and not much else to it.  It could be anywhere, which is not really appropriate in the middle of downtown.

The article tells us:

The office market has traditionally been the anchor of downtown Tampa, though revitalization advocates — among them Mayor Bob Buckhorn — have turned their attention to bulking up the residential base in recent years. Densely populated urban cores have the potential to become the kind of live-work-play environment that creates a unique sense of place, drawing both visitors and a Millennial workforce.

Setting aside that people have been trying to get residential downtown since One Laurel Place was built back in the early 80’s (not to mention that right before the recession, quite a bit of residential was built and much more proposed) if not before, it is true that you can create a unique sense of place, but not with generic projects that lack street interaction. (Has Tampa learned nothing from the 1980’s and early 90’s and the projects built then?)

While we understand the City wants to fill lots with buildings, this project appears to be the very definition of settling.

Harbour Island – The Argument Continues

There was also news about the proposed Related project on Harbour Island that has been the subject of a dispute with people in a nearby building.

The developer, Miami-based Related Development LLC, plans a 21-story tower called “The Manor at Harbour Island,” with 340 residential units, which the lawsuit claims would normally require on-site parking. Instead, the plan calls for using parking spaces in the Two Harbour Place garage.

The suit does not challenge another tower nearby that’s planned by Intown/Framework Group.

The suit was filed by nearby residents, including several who live in The Plaza tower next door to the proposed tower. The suit asks a state court to intervene in the process and cancel a city council approval of the parking and bridge plan. They claim the planned 560 parking spaces for the new tower would overwhelm the garage, and they dispute the developer’s contention that daytime workers would not need parking in the evening as apartment residents would.

We have a hard time believing that the use of a completely unrelated garage (note that among the people suing, no one is losing their parking space) is the reason to drag this on and on. On the other hand, the case is the case. Nothing to do but wait.

Seminole Heights – Small but Important

A proposed loft projects in Seminole Heights also is getting going.

The conversion of an old warehouse into loft-style apartments in Seminole Heights officially begins today.

The team behind the Warehouse Lofts — developer Wesley Burdette, architect Brian Wolf of Wolf Design Group and Sunshine Bancorp CEO Andrew Samuels — will be joined by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn at 11 a.m. today to celebrate the beginning of construction.

At $5.5 million and 48 units, the Warehouse Lofts is a small deal. But those smaller projects can help create a unique sense of place and build the urban density that most neighborhoods in Tampa lack. Click here to see inside the warehouse.

First, almost every neighborhood in Tampa lacks a sense of place and urban density due to the policies of the City over decades.  In any event, this is an important project because it can provide a proof of concept that such projects can work outside of the area around downtown and help move Florida Avenue in Seminole Heights to where it should be, which is an urbanized street with reasonable costs.

List of the Week

Instead of a list this week, we have an interesting interactive map (here) from the Urban Institute called Mapping America’s Future. You can scroll over various metropolitan areas to see projected population growth.  Click on the metro area and you get a more detailed breakdown of the projections.  For instance, they project that the Tampa Bay area will grow 22.75% by 2030, while Orlando is projected to grow by 48.96%, Austin by 55.34% and Denver by 25.22%.  Of course, none of this is set in stone, just projections.  And it does not really get into economic information. Nevertheless, it is interesting.

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