To District 7 Tampa City councilman Luis Viera, there is nothing like the sight of a filled room for one of his town halls and New Tampa Council meetings.
This time, on May 2, it was the Jeri Zelinski Community Room at the New Tampa Regional Library, which was filled with local residents with questions about water, fire and emergency service, traffic and future developments.
But mostly, traffic.
Hillsborough’s countywide District 5 Commissioner Ken Hagan — who is running for the District 2 seat that represents all of New Tampa — was the guest at the May 2 New Tampa Council meeting. Viera actually had to recuse himself and leave the room halfway through the meeting when the discussion turned to an issue — the connection of Kinnan St. to Mansfield Blvd. (see stories on pages 1 & 4-5) about which he had a hearing the next day.
What did you miss?
Here’s some of the more interesting tidbits from the hour-long meeting:
Parks, Parks & More Parks
Comm. Hagan was asked about building a cricket field in the area, which turned into a conversation about the progress of a park on 50-plus acres of land in K-Bar Ranch. Hagan said the park will be paid for by the county — which has already set aside $5 million for the project, he added — but will be maintained and run by the City of Tampa in a rare city-county collaboration.
He says the park has the blessing of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, and the two parties are working on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), a non-binding agreement that lays out the terms, details and each party’s responsibilities as they pertain to the park.
As for the what amenities the park would offer, Hagan is unsure. He said, however, that sports fields will not be one of them. At one point, an athletic complex was envisioned, but according to the commissioner, “the city felt that was too intense.”
Another park, this one a public-private venture, is planned for the Branchton Park area, south and west of the intersection of Cross Creek Blvd. and Morris Bridge Rd.
The county bought 10 acres of land for $1.17 million to complete its holdings in the Branchton Park area and open the way for development, as reported last November in the New Tampa Neighborhood News.
Hagan said he is hoping for a creative project. He also said that he expects there will be some commercial development on the corner of Cross Creek Blvd. and Morris Bridge Rd., with the developer funding a lot of the potential amenities, like a splash pad, dog park or zip line.
Hagan also said that he is excited about the The Village at Hunter’s Lake project across the street from Hunter’s Green, saying it will break ground in October. As for the New Tampa Cultural Center, he said that planned jewel will be opening in 2020.
“It will be a centerpiece for the community,’’ Hagan said.
The Zombie Road Returns?
Plans to build a 3-mile East-West Road (E-W Rd.) connecting New Tampa Blvd. and I-275 died in 2008, but it never fails to draw some conversation at Viera’s New Tampa Council and town hall meetings.
That’s probably because some local residents remain convinced it would actually help solve some of New Tampa’s current traffic woes. As originally proposed, the E-W Rd. would direct traffic through West Meadows and connect from where the Gateway Bridge ends at Commerce Park Blvd. in Tampa Palms to a new interchange on I-275. The roadway was expected to help decrease the delays at the I-75/S.R. 56, I-75/BBD, and I-275/Bearss Ave. interchanges.
As Hagan recalled, most of New Tampa was in favor of the road, but residents of West Meadows and Tampa Palms Areas 4 & 8, where the road was proposed to go through, banded together as a formidable opposition group.
There were other problems with the proposed road as well, from environmental concerns to whether or not to make it a toll road.
“I would still support taking a look at it and making another run at it,” said Hagan, whose parents lived in West Meadows at the time, but still supported the E-W Rd. “I can certainly see how that would relieve a significant amount of congestion.”
At the other end of the same road, Hagan also was asked if there are any plans to extend Cross Creek Blvd. to U.S. 301, but he said there are not.
“When you look at our unfunded list of projects, priority-wise that would be pretty far down the list,” he said.
The same goes for widening Morris Bridge Rd., north of Cross Creek Blvd. Although it is a constrained road and currently prohibited from being widened due to environmental concerns, with the extension of S.R. 56 and the continued development in K-Bar Ranch in that area, the two-lane, well-worn Morris Bridge Rd. has “future problem” written all over it.
Surprisingly, no one complained about the intersection of Cross Creek Blvd. and BBD, which continues to be a major nuisance for commuters in peak hours, although the City of Tampa is currently studying it.
A BBD Pedestrian Bridge?
The idea of a pedestrian bridge, or a foot bridge, crossing over BBD from Live Oak Preserve (or even the Pebble Creek area) was presented again by Sigrun Ragnarsdottir and, is it just us, or does it make more and more sense every time it is brought up?
Think of it — a bridge for students to be able to walk, ride a bike or otherwise cross over an extremely congested road to get safely to Wharton High. It would be safer than relying on traffic lights — and the common sense of drivers probably holding their cell phones in one hand — to cross BBD, and surely more parents would let their kids walk or bike to school, reducing the number of cars piling up on BBD for drop-off and pick up.
Yes, a pedestrian bridge recently collapsed in Miami, and the cost of construction probably kills any chance of making this happen. But, when you look at the other high schools in Hillsborough County, there are aren’t any others – even Chamberlain (Busch Blvd.), Plant (Dale Mabry), Sickles (Gunn Highway) — where the majority of its local students have to cross a busier and more dangerous road than BBD to get to and from school.
Police On The Radar?
As the population of New Tampa continues to grow, so does the need for a police substation in the area, according to a few local residents.
Viera said that, at the moment, however, a police substation is a “want…whether or not it’s a need is a point of distinction.” He added, however, that the idea of a police substation is on his radar.
“It’s something that, as we see more growth in this area , we are going to want to take a look at because right now, we’ve pretty much got police hanging out at 7-11, and that’s not the most amenable plan,” he said.
Hagan said a Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) substation is being put at a new park in Carrollwood he is championing, and then it hit him — maybe it’s something that could be done at the proposed K-Bar Ranch park. “I hadn’t thought of that before,’’ he said.
The Elephant In The Room
You kind of got the feeling from the start that people were just killing time waiting for someone to bring up the whole Kinnan-Mansfield thing, and of course, it came up.
Short recap: Nothing has changed.
Hagan wants it connected, and said it was a travesty that the issue has dragged on this long. It appeared everyone in the room pretty much agreed.
Someone in attendance joked about sneaking in there and connecting them overnight, another said they could just borrow the equipment being used to widen BBD, and another suggested a boycott of Wiregrass Ranch businesses.
Judging by our stories on pages 1 and 4, however, it is a situation that hopefully is entering its endgame this summer.