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Pinellas adopts new, long-awaited Countywide Plan

in The Bay and the 'Burg by

After five years of polishing, Pinellas County’s new Countywide Plan (CWP) has finally become a reality.

The Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved the new CWP at their Aug. 4 regular meeting. The updated plan contains new strategies and rules, as well as a new map.

Its creation was made possible by Florida’s “Special Act,” which, since being passed by the Legislature in 2012, provides for a onetime repeal and replacement of the county’s existing CWP. Guidelines for the Special act’s implementation revolve around creating a broadly defined, policy-based CWP that focus on countywide issues.

Land-use designation was one of those issues. Pinellas’ old CWP had 36 different categories of land designated for various uses, such as residential, industrial, commercial and so on. However, the powers that be deemed it outdated.

“The map worked for quite a while,” said Michael Crawford, interim executive director of the Pinellas Planning Council. “But it ended up becoming an existing land-use plan map. It didn’t give anything to work towards in the future.”

The new CWP “future land-use category map” narrows those categories down to just 16, and gives local government, as well as county government, room to work independently.

“[The new map] allows a lot of flexibility for local governments to make [their own] land-use plan maps within these broader 16 categories without [needing to go through] the countywide process,” said Crawford.

The new map also helps define whose responsible for what — between local and county governments — according to Crawford:

“Issues that are countywide significant will come to you [the BCC], but the more localized government issues will stay at the local government level.”

One of the related issues addressed by the new CWP was the land-use plan map amendment process.

In the past, every planned map amendment had to go through the BCC — who also serves as Pinellas’ Countywide Planning Authority (CPA) — at a public hearing. However, with the new CWP, the lower-level amendments will now be reviewed by Pinellas Planning Council staff, while only the larger issues will be heard by the BCC/CPA.

Pinellas’ new CWP also focuses on transit-oriented land use.

“As you know, transportation is a huge driver of economic development,” said Whit Blanton, the new executive director of the joint Pinellas County Metropolitan Organization/Pinellas Planning Council, “because it provides access to the region.”

The new CWP will work to concentrate future growth in existing and newly established activity centers as well as in multimodal transportation corridors. Accompanying supplemental land-use rules will, in theory, ensure development in these areas is supportive of transit.

The activity centers and multimodal corridors are designed for convenient walking, biking, and transit use, according to the PPC, and have a mix of land uses, such as housing, offices, shops, and restaurants. By concentrating attractive, convenient uses near rail and bus stations, the new CWP aims to increase the number of people who choose to use transit.

A review of Pinellas’ now implemented CWP is expected after 18 months.

Devon Crumpacker is a Tampa Bay based writer and reporter for Extensive Enterprises Media. He primarily covers Pinellas County politics for SaintPetersblog.com, but also makes time to write the occasional bar review for FloridaBarTab.com. He lives in St. Petersburg with his fiance, Sydney. To contact, e-mail devon@floridapolitics.com, or visit his Twitter page @DevonCrumpacker.

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