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How growth across the Tampa Bay area can be a 'double-edged sword'

 people speaking on a dais
Steve Newborn
WUSF Public Media
From left, Melissa Zornitta, Plan Hillsborough; Dr. Chris Bucciarelli, BayCare; Chris Boles, Hillsborough County Fire Fighters; and Mitchel Allen, Tampa Bay Economic Development Council.

Growth can be the lifeblood of any region. But managing growth is a balancing act that can provide opportunity — while putting a strain on the area's roads and resources.

Developers and members of the business community stress the importance of growth. It provides demand for new homes and services, and more jobs.

But as anyone who has driven the highways during rush hour can attest, there is a price to pay for the legions of people flocking to the region.

At a recent panel discussion on growth at the Tampa Tiger Bay Club,panelists said there are no easy solutions for the area's overburdened roads, schools and water supply.

But Melissa Zornitta — executive director ofPlan Hillsborough, the county's main planning organization — says her department is focused on dealing with the problems.

"We live in a really attractive place," Zornitta told the audience at the Cuban Club in Ybor City. "So I think we can't put our heads in the sand and think that the growth is going to stop coming. I believe we need to plan for it — whether it gets here by 2050 or 2060 or 2070. It's still going to get here, and as a planner, I want to have a plan for it."

The panelists said growth is a "double-edged sword."

On one hand, adding more people to the region means more demand for homes and jobs, and increases the vitality of cities and suburbs. But Zornitta said the biggest issue planners hear from the public is infrastructure not keeping up with growth.

"First, top of mind, is always transportation," Zornitta said, "but (also) schools, parks, water supply. The fire rescue being able to be there in a timely manner. All of those interrelate."

One answer, the panelists agreed, is concentrating growth in urban areas instead of suburban sprawl. But they also said there are no easy solutions for the growing pains. And if growth stops, communities won't be able to attract businesses and create new jobs.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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