Spotlight on Sustainability: Tampa, Florida

Q&A with Randy Goers, Urban Planning Coordinator for the City of Tampa, Florida, Land Development Coordination Division (HUD Community Challenge Grant Recipient) and Smart Growth America.

Smart Growth America: What is the goal of this project?
Randy Goers: The objective of our project is to establish a vision for development in and around downtown, as well as to develop a plan for growth around a major transportation corridor. Like many communities that have grown significantly in recent years, we’ve been reacting to growth and approving it as it comes in. We’re pretty much built out, so new development will be along our corridors. Numerous agencies have to be a part of the approval process, which slows it down and adds costs. In some instances, the added time and costs can be substantial. Then there is also conflict when new development bumps against preexisting residential or historic neighborhoods.

SGA: How will your project resolve those intergovernmental and community issues?
RG: We will focus on two areas. The first is streamlining the approval process for development and improving the interagency lines of communications between the entities that are a part of the approval process. With so many different city and regional agencies that have a stake in development projects, it is not uncommon for our staff to repeat the same arguments for different projects. For example, trees in the right of way – – the Parks Department has one point of view, Transportation has another. The same discussion can surface for several projects without any clear resolution.

By convening all of the relevant staff of the different agencies, we can engage in knowledge sharing and capacity building and streamline the process. We need to get our regulations, and the people who administer those regulations, on the same page. We want to do trainings that will bring various agencies together to find common solutions, so they can interpret the codes from a common approach. In this tough economy, lots of local governments are cutting back, and it’s possible an agency might lose the person who had the fullest knowledge about codes or process. We want to get everyone on the same page so the process is smoother for developers and the government.

Second, we will seek out input from the community for their preferred development scenario. Growth has fueled our economy in the recent past. Due to the recession, we’re not currently in growth mode. But before, things were changing fast and that created a lot of conflict between residents and builders. Today, suspicion still lingers between residents and developers. Increased traffic became a problem in some areas. In certain neighborhoods increased density worked, in others it didn’t. The trick is to get denser in corridors where public transportation can connect residential and mixed use, but the community has to drive that process. Getting the community to give their vision for preferred development is necessary for the success of our project.

SGA: Is there anything that has become obviously critical for the success of the project?
RG: Success will depend on support from elected leaders. We just had a change in leadership, and that could have been disruptive to the project. We knew that without the support of civic leaders, the focus of our project could get lost and ultimately we wouldn’t be successful. But, our new mayor, Bob Buckhorn, pushed for transportation connections to downtown and surrounding urban neighborhoods and has made reviving the urban core one of his major objectives.

The City of Tampa is excited to see this project unfold and have the opportunity to collaborate across agencies and organizations for the development of our community.