Tampa Bay Residents “Voice It!”

By Victoria Parsons

With nearly 4,000 completed surveys and more than 2,500 open-ended comments, Tampa Bay residents took advantage of One Bay’s “Voice It!” campaign to tell regional leaders how they wanted their communities to look in the future.

Perhaps most telling was the overwhelming vote against Scenario A – which reflects what planners think the region will look like if growth continues on the same track it’s taken over the last decade. Just 4% of respondents selected it as the alternative that best reflects their overall values.

“I think the community really came together and said ‘If we can change, why wouldn’t we?’

— Dan Mahurin

Scenario C, specifically designed to accommodate mass transit options, was the clear leader with 54% of respondents selecting it as their first choice for future development patterns.

“It was a logical choice for many people when they looked at the maps that showed the impact of continued development on environmental and agricultural lands and the increase in commute times,” said Dan Mahurin, CEO of SunTrust Tampa Bay and chair of the One Bay initiative. “I think the community really came together and said ‘If we can change, why wouldn’t we?’ ”

Scenario C is particularly appealing to many people because it envisions walkable communities developed along clearly defined transportation corridors, Mahurin said. “For most people, jobs will be closer to their homes, but there will still be plenty of single-family housing available for people who want to spend the extra time and money.”

“With populations and population densities increasing, the need for regional thinking has never been more urgent in our towns, cities and counties.”

— Manny Pumariega

Transportation – mass transit in particular – was identified as the most immediate issue requiring attention by more than 25% of respondents. The cost of living, traffic congestion, employment, education and preservation of natural resources were also identified as top issues by survey respondents.

Scenarios B and D received 10% and 15%, respectively, while 17% of respondents preferred a blend of scenarios.

The next step for the One Bay committee is incorporating comments into a composite scenario that reflects the specific visions and concerns identified by participants, adds Avera Wynne, planning director for the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, a lead sponsor in the One Bay initiative.

That composite scenario, expected to be complete in mid-2009, will not be binding upon local government, Mahurin said. City and county governments within the region will need to enact changes in land-use plans to make the vision a reality. “I’m sure we’ll see some skirmishes as those changes are made but it will be easier to move forward when people understand the issues.”

About One Bay

A public-private partnership representing the seven-county Tampa Bay region, the One Bay committee was originally established to develop Reality Check, a series of regional planning exercises that began in May 2007 and brought more than 1,000 participants together to identify housing, employment and transportation alternatives as the region continues to grow.

Planners expect Tampa Bay’s population to increase by nearly 84% – to more than seven million people – by the year 2050. Populations are likely to double in Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee and Pasco counties. Even Pinellas, already the most dense county in the state, is expected to add a significant number of residents and jobs.

Using purple ribbon for highways, orange ribbon for mass transit corridors and multi-colored Legos to represent homes and workplaces, participants developed a series of “guiding principles” in a number of meetings held in each county. Those principles were incorporated into the scenarios that helped residents visualize how the different alternatives would look.

The initiatives were spearheaded by five regional organizations: the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, Tampa Bay Estuary Program, Southwest Florida Water Management District, Tampa Bay Partnership’s Regional Research & Education Foundation and the Urban Land Institute Tampa Bay District.

“With populations and population densities increasing, the need for regional thinking has never been more urgent in our towns, cities and counties,” notes Manny Pumariega, executive director of the TBRPC, the state’s first regional planning council. “It’s clear that we will need to approach the next 40 years with even more insight to address the challenges facing each of the regions within our state.”

Maintaining and improving water quality in Tampa Bay also will require careful planning as development continues, adds Holly Greening, executive director of the TBEP. For instance, Scenario C will require approximately 80% less impervious surface than Scenario A. Impervious surfaces increase stormwater runoff and block natural infiltration of rainwater needed to recharge underground aquifers.

The ultimate goal is achieving the highest possible quality of life for future generations, Pumariega says. “And now is the time to act. The decisions we make today drive the future – and the longer we wait, the less impact they will have on the Tampa Bay of 2050.”