Around the State
Environmentalists and developers have tried to cooperate on a growth plan for the county that both can live with. Did they reach consensus?
By Stacie Kress Booker
In Sarasota County, Interstate 75 has been a battleline for years. The county's growth plan established the interstate as a boundary of sorts to eastward development, but as the narrow western part of the county along the coast has filled in, developers have eyed the prime real estate east of I-75 hungrily. For their part, environmentalists and others have fought hard to keep the land east of the interstate subdivision-free. In 1995, an unsuccessful effort by developers to breach the I-75 line left both sides bitter -- and didn't resolve the issue. In response, with some prodding by county officials, the Multi-Stakeholder Group (MSG) was formed; the advisory panel put representatives of both pro-growth and hold-the-line factions together in hopes they could craft a unified vision for growth. After four years of meetings, the group has issued recommendations -- but the question of real consensus still hangs in the air.
The task of the MSG, which includes developers, environmentalists, landowners and others, was to make recommendations about the county's growth plan to the Sarasota County Planning Commission, which recommends changes to the county commission, which in turn recommends them to the state Department of Community Affairs. County officials say they're pleased with the MSG's work, but it's unclear exactly how much consensus it represents: The MSG report presents two sets of conclusions, one based on controlled growth, the other adamantly no-growth.
Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce executive Bill Couch and Sarasota County planner Rick Drummond say the dueling recommendations overlap substantially on some key issues: The need for greenways, the preservation of some rural communities, and the extension of University Parkway -- a key east-west thoroughfare loaded with traffic from booming residential development in southern Manatee County. But there's still plenty of discord. MSG member Dan Lobeck, a firebrand attorney instrumental in sandbagging the pro-growth initiative four years ago, says if the county sides with developers on the issue of changing the I-75 boundary line, he will "legally challenge" it and make it "very uncomfortable for the politicians to adopt."
But landowners such as Jim Turner, an MSG member whose family owns the 10,000-acre Hi Hat Ranch, say growth is inevitable as it becomes more difficult to make a living off the land. "With federal estate taxes, we will have no other choice but to sell our properties, and the only buyers willing to pay the prices the lands are worth will be developers."
Meanwhile, Lobeck and other no-growth advocates haven't bought into the planning commission's so-called "Optional Sector Planning" approach, a compromise that pleases developers and some environmentalists. Sector planning would regulate growth by promoting self-contained communities surrounded by greenspace. Orange County uses the approach, but Lobeck says developments there are so closely squeezed together that very little greenspace remains. He sees the sector approach as a "radical pro-growth plan" and charges the planning commission with trying to "hoodwink the public."
Drummond says the planning commission will hold public forums on the issue and consider the MSG's report as it begins to formulate its recommendations, expected in late summer. What's next for the MSG is less certain. One MSG member struggles with his own feelings along with making public policy recommendations. Architect Bill Zoller lives just west of I-75 on land that's been in his family for five generations, most of it east of the interstate. He wants to preserve the rural character of the area, but is not opposed to growth, as long as it's good growth and the time is right. He does not want to see land "disappear into a replication of nondescript subdivisions," and says "all the rhetoric in the world can't legislate good design and good planning."
In the News
BRADENTON -- Residential and commercial security systems provider SecurityLink will add 450 jobs this year at its national monitoring center opened here last year. The facility, which handles alarm calls from across the U.S., already employs 500. Average hourly wages range from $7 to $12.50. SecurityLink, a division of Chicago-based phone-service provider Ameritech Corp., has 65,000 customers in the Tampa/St. Petersburg/Sarasota area, the company's second largest market in the state after Miami.
HAINES CITY -- Tempe, Ariz.-based Sun Orchard is setting up a citrus-processing facility in space formerly occupied by Glico Foods USA. It's the firm's first foray into Florida. The company plans to hire up to 90 people over the next 18 months.
HENDRY COUNTY -- Citrus canker has infected grapefruit trees at Siboney Groves and the Seminole Indian Reservation in Hendry, which has the largest number of citrus trees statewide. Growers are pulling and burning the infected trees and a quarantine is planned. The county's citrus industry accounts for 5,898 full-time jobs and had an economic impact of $419 million in 1998.
ST. PETERSBURG -- Danka Business Services PLC (Nasdaq-DANKY) agreed to sell a majority interest in its outsourcing business, Danka Services International (DSI), to Schroder Ventures, a London-based buyout specialist. Analysts expect Danka to sell up to three of its divisions to reduce outstanding debt that exceeds $1 billion. Terms of the agreement have not been disclosed. DSI buys about 20% of the Kodak high-volume copiers that Danka distributes.
Plasma-Therm (Nasdaq-PTIS), a maker of semiconductor-manufacturing equipment, whittled down its workforce to about 160 from 210 with layoffs in November and March. It pushed back the rollout of a new product to late 1999 and halted construction on its new R&D and training center. CEO Scott Deferrari took a 30-day medical leave of absence in March, the second time the 35-year-old Deferrari has left the company for unspecified medical reasons. His father, company founder and Chairman Ronald H. Deferrari, took over as CEO in his absence.
Discount retailer Target opened its 12th store in the area recently at St. Petersburg's rejuvenated Gateway Mall site. Since opening, the new store has added another 40 employees to its existing workforce of 165.
TAMPA -- Citrus Park Town Center, the newest upscale shopping mall in the Tampa Bay area, opened recently. Retailers in the 1.1 million-sq.-ft. mall employ about 4,000 full-time. More than 1 million shoppers visited the mall in its first month of operation. Chicago-based Urban Shopping Centers, which owns and operates the mall, opened the Brandon Town Center mall east of Tampa four years ago.
Staffing services firm Kelly Scientific Resources (KSR) opened its first Tampa office. KSR, a unit of Fortune 500 Kelly Services, specializes in business staffing for the pharmaceutical, biotech, chemical, environmental and food industries. The Tampa office will also serve Ocala, Orlando and Fort Myers.
D.G. Yuengling & Son plans to buy the Stroh Brewery Co. plant that closed earlier this year and possibly rehire some of the plant's 154 former employees when it reopens this summer. A fifth generation family business that bills itself as the oldest brewery in America, the 170-year-old Pottsville, Pa., company sold 637,000 barrels of beer last year.
The aviation authority approved a 38,000-sq.-ft. expansion of the Raytheon Aircraft Services facilities at Tampa International.
Global Imaging Systems (Nasdaq-GISX), which sells and services office imaging equipment, purchased Denver-based Lewan and Associates, Global's 33rd acquisition since its founding in 1994.
British Airways is adding the Boeing 777 to its Tampa to London route. The roomier jet begins service this summer.
WINTER HAVEN -- Wal-Mart is adding 90,000 square feet to its existing 850,000-sq.-ft. distribution center on Lucerne Park Road. The expansion will create 55 jobs at the center, which serves 137 Wal-Mart and Sam's stores throughout the state.
The University of South Florida's Bayboro Campus in St. Petersburg is quietly becoming a full-fledged 4-year undergraduate institution. Tampa-based USF's largest regional branch campus, Bayboro admitted freshman undergraduates for the first time last fall and will increase freshman enrollment and course offerings again this fall. According to current enrollment trends, the state university system expects to absorb more than 100,000 new students by 2010 with USF getting about 10,000 to 11,000. Bayboro's expansion will help to accommodate the influx. It also supports the Board of Regents' goal to increase the number of baccalaureate degrees awarded statewide. Florida lags other states in the number of undergraduate degrees awarded annually. ... ... Former St. Petersburg City Manager Larry Arnold is working with the founder of Advanced Plasma Systems, Fazal Fazlin, as he develops a new company and a new product. Fazlin sold Advanced Plasma Systems to Nordsun Company last January and soon after created Practical Software Creations. Fazlin expects to test market his product -- a software package called Apiks that includes productivity and human-resource organizing functions -- in the Tampa Bay area next month.