St. Petersburg Times: “Commissioner stirs a growing debate”

 In News Archives

Excerpt from the St. Petersburg Times, December 24, 1990

TAMPA — If Ed Turanchik had his way, there would never be another Dale Mabry Highway, with its endless shopping centers, bottle-necked intersections and infinite number of cars.

Subdivisions known as “dead-worm developments,” where residents from hundreds of homes must enter and leave their community on a single, snaking, overloaded road, would be a thing of the past.

For the lawyer-environmentalist who stormed onto the Hillsborough County Commission this fall with a victory over a development-friendly incumbent, these are things that stir the passions.

So strong are his feelings that Turanchik agonized over a recent zoning vote he cast in favor of putting a gas station and convenience store at a major intersection.

“I am abdicating my duty to future generations to provide them something good,” Turanchik said.

Rethinking Growth

His tenure on the County Commission is barely a month old, and his ideas are far from new. Nevertheless, Turanchik is stirring up government and developers by making good on a campaign promise to try to get the county to rethink the way it plans for growth.

Turanchik is lobbying commissioners to start over on the county’s map for the next two decades of growth, replacing subdivisions envisioned for south Hillsborough with compact growth near urban centers, and trading miles of new roads for a landscape that will boost mass transit.

He’s doing it at a time when many think public sentiment is shifting his way.

“I think that the citizen activism, especially in the county, clearly indicates that many have felt the pace of growth has been too rapid and that the costs have exceeded the benefits in terms of quality of life,” said Bob Kerstein, a professor of political science at the University of Tampa, who recently finished a study of growth and politics in Hillsborough.

Turanchik agrees.

“People are seeing the impacts of growth in terms of their neighborhoods, their streets and their tax bills, and they’re saying it’s time to do things better,” he said. “Unfortunately, they’re saying it five years after they should have said it.”

But Turanchik and his allies aren’t letting that stop them. Last week, he presented his fellow commissioners a 12-point platform to revise the county’s comprehensive plan.

His philosophy calls for directing development toward existing job centers in and around the city of Tampa, revitalizing blighted neighborhoods before letting ready-made suburbs pop up in the county and keeping growth inside the areas that the county will provide with water and sewer service for the next decade.

Putting the people where government has provided such necessities as roads, sewer lines and storm drains is cheaper than moving people farther away and bringing the services out to meet them, Turanchik says.

Growing Support

Turanchik and others say they are encouraged by growing public support of a new philosophy.

“I think people feel that maybe something isn’t quite right,” said Ray Chiaramonte, director of county planning and urban design for the Planning Commission. “I’m not sure they know what’s wrong. They just know there’s something they don’t like.” The Planning Commission helped put together the comprehensive plan.

“They don’t like seeing all these seas of parking lots and strip centers all over,” Chiaramonte said.

After hearing Turanchik’s views, a majority of commissioners said that while they favor some changes to their comprehensive plan, they don’t want to rewrite the entire document, which took years to put together.