Ybor activists battle HCC over construction

03/05/09 Mitch E. Perry
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Ybor City representatives angry about the construction of a new facility for the Ybor branch of Hillsborough Community College that they say violates the standards of the historic district received no satisfaction after pleading their case before the Tampa City Council today.

HCC constructed the building without getting approval from the BLC- the Barrio Latino Commission – which has the responsibility of preserving the historic fabric of Ybor City.

Patrick Mantiega is the editor and publisher of the newspaper La Gaceta. Representing the Cuban Club, which stands across the street from the Student Services Center. He said he and others had contacted the city nearly three months ago to ask them to seek a legal opinion from the Attorney General’s Office on whether the college needed to get approval for the addition.

Mantiega said the City’s administration has taken the position that it can bargain with the school that it should never have to go before the BLC, which he said was inappropriate. He said HCC should either comply with the rules, or be exempt from them, but not something in between.

Mark Bentley is an attorney representing the Cuban Club, Ybor Square and El Pasaje. He said the school currently has 250,000 square feet built, and the master plan indicates construction of an additional 500,000 square feet. He said the future of Ybor is at stake.

Angelo Peres is with the Florida Historical Commission in Tallahassee, which he said was very concerned with the situation in Ybor.

Joseph Capitano said that if it was too late to affect the student center, it wasn’t too late to put more regulations into law to prevent the situation from occurring in the future.

Dr. Gwen Stephanson is president of Hillsborough Community College. She said that the design of the student center had to satisfy three different objectives. Stephanson said she was hoping that the city and the college could come together to work on an interlocal agreement.

The City Attorney came before the City Council to say that the city was pretty much in the middle of this dispute between local activists and the community college, and as the discussion continued, was hard pressed to advise them on what, if anything, they could do about it.

There is a state law that essentially exempts community colleges from local building codes. Instead, they have to abide by a separate state standard.

City Councilman John Dingfelder suggested that the city draft a section of the BLC code that is specific to HCC.

But the Council and attorneys continued to debate for another half an hour, without coming to any resolution. City Councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena said it was important to improve the process in the future to preserve Ybor City’s historical flavor.

The Council ultimately passed a motion sponsored by Gwen Miller that will demand that the city and HCC work on an interlocal agreement.

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