RIVERVIEW, Fla. — In Hillsborough County, there’s been a plan in place for decades to deal with the surging population boom, but many people who live and work there don’t think it’s working.
“They’re building neighborhoods where there’s no infrastructure for it, I’ve seen it spread down into what was one point country and now it’s suburbia,” said resident Jon Sullivan, who works all over the county.
“When I first moved here, there was like 1,100 people in Riverview, now we got what? 20,000, 30,000 people in Riverview,” said David Myers, “Can’t go anywhere without taking 30 minutes to go down a road to go two miles.”
From 2013 surveys to today, residents said their top concern with growth is transportation, especially in South County.
So how did this happen if there was always a plan in place for growth?
“I think in general, we've been headed in the right direction,” said Melissa Zornitta the Executive Director of the Hillsborough County Planning Commission. “There are some places where I think we things have gotten out of whack a little bit. The infrastructure has not kept up with growth, particularly in southern Hillsborough County.”
The planning commission tries to plan at least 20 years ahead and gives advice to governing bodies in the county.
The agency’s latest vision map for 2040 illustrates a general plan for future growth showing high suburban and high urban growth areas. The map also shows concern for I-75 and I-4 as “limited access roads.” It also marks locations with stripes to show expansion study areas close to the Urban Services Corridor, with existing utilities and roads.
South County alone has seen explosive growth. The planning commission says from 2010 to 2040, the area will have gained 150,000 new residents.
Just driving down U.S. 301, you’ll see new subdivisions and neighborhoods going up left and right.
Zornitta points to a 2011 change in state law that makes it easier for developers to build, even if the infrastructure isn’t in place.
“Now it says that local governments can't stop a developer from going forward with building their project as long as they're able to pay their share of the impact,” she explained, “So their impact on a road might be a couple million dollars, but it might cost $20 million to actually make the improvement to widen the road.”
Road improvements often take about five years from plan to execution, but that’s with funding — something County Commissioner and Chair Kimberly Overman said the county doesn’t have, pointing to the overturned transportation tax referendum.
“We have a serious deficit in our infrastructure budget in unincorporated Hillsborough County and we were hoping that we would have been able to start addressing that issue with the referendum that was passed in ‘18,” Overman exclaimed.
“As a consequence of the failure of that referendum to pass the constitutional muster, according to the Supreme Court… we're sitting on three years worth of plans that we can't do anything about,” she added.
Florida’s Department of Transportation has taken on a number of road improvement projects such as widening 301 near Big Bend Road, but residents say it’s not enough.
“It’s just too many people coming in here at once trying to move down here,” Myers said.
“They haven’t kept up for many, many years and we’re paying the price now,” Sullivan added.
The Planning Commission is constantly updating its projections and suggestions, trying to come up with solutions.
“There's a lot of opportunities for what we call the missing middle housing type, the accessory dwelling units, the duplexes, townhomes things like that, that might fit well in neighborhoods or in transitions from some of our commercial districts into neighborhoods that could accommodate additional growth and be in locations where we already have utilities,” Zornitta said.
Zornitta also adds that they have had plans in place since the 1980s to keep agriculture and rural land within the county. At least until 2045, the commission suggests expansion take place in Wimauma/Balm, Plant City and Sun City.
Overman said that they are planning to propose another tax referendum for transportation funding in 2022 to generate funding.