Hillsborough commissioners are concerned about sprawl … until this guy shows up electricity invented or discovered

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And many of those clients have cut checks to the campaigns of county commissioners in the past year. A Tampa Bay Times analysis found Marchetti and businesses he represented donated $127,000 to the four county commissioners running for re-election this year — Victor Crist, Ken Hagan, Sandy Murman and Stacy White.

There’s "no correlation" between the donations and his success with the board, says Marchetti, a shareholder with Stearns Weaver Miller, a statewide law firm. Commissioners, he said, "review the facts of the case and make a decision that’s in the best interest of the whole."

"Developers are the mainstay for a lot of campaigns," said Commissioner Pat Kemp, who in her 16 months on the board has often waged lonely battles against new development. "I think we have to have commissioners that will try to stand up and make sure we can afford how we move forward."

"Extremely persistent," said Rick Garrity, the former executive director of the county’s Environmental Protection Commission, an agency that fought Marchetti and RaceTrac for years over plans to build a gas station on wetlands in Brandon. "That’s his trademark."

Clients like him because he’s detailed and unassuming, said Beth Leytham, a Tampa public relations consultant who with Marchetti represented the developer that brought Bass Pro Shops to Brandon. And as a former senior assistant county attorney for Hillsborough County, he knows the ins and outs of County Center as well as anyone.

Among his clients: KMDGR Investments LLC, the company behind a proposal to turn 164-acres of rural land near FishHawk Ranch into 131 new homes. For the project to proceed, KMDGR needed commissioners to change the property’s designation from agricultural to residential and increase how many homes could be built there by a factor of four.

The project is just outside the county’s urban service area, where government functions such as roads and utilities are concentrated and development is encouraged. In December, experts from the smart growth-focused Urban Land Institute told commissioners to block requests like this, warning it would strain the budget for roads, stormwater, schools and fire stations.

In the months leading up to the vote, Marchetti met 10 times with commissioners. Meanwhile, KMDGR Investments, its owners Reed Fischbach and David Henderson, their associates and other companies registered to the same addresses donated $36,000 to the four county commissioners.

On March 1, commissioners approved the plan on a 5-2 vote. White was against the proposal, but the other three gave it a green light. They said they felt bad for the landowners, an Illinois couple, because 20 years ago the county changed how many homes could be built there.

Valrico resident Linda Meigel said she felt "helpless" trying to fight a project in her neighborhood after learning about Marchetti’s fundraising prowess. Marchetti represents Bridgepoint Lifecare Group, LLC., in a proposal to turn the former St. Stephen Church property into a 260-bed assisted living facility.

Developers there have two options: Maintain the rural character by building one home per five acres, or they could construct small "villages" at a density of two units per acre if they included retail, businesses and other commercial ventures that could employ and support the people who lived there.

He is lobbying the county to allow a 50 percent increase in density — three dwellings per acre — on 4,400 acres, or 13,200 new homes. The application on file with the county also contends that the development would be urban in nature and therefore developers should pay lower mobility fees. These fees are collected on new construction to help pay for the cost of growth and are higher outside the urban service area.

He began meeting with commissioners in June on behalf of three clients: Ag-Mart Produce, McGrady Road Investment and Eisenhower Property Group. Between last year and February, the three companies, their owners and companies registered to the same addresses donated $9,500 to Crist, $27,250 to Hagan, $9,500 to Murman and $8,000 to White.

Commissioners voted 4-1 on March 20 to allow the the proposal to proceed to its next phase. Crist, Hagan and Murman were in favor. White was absent but stated his support in a note to his colleagues. Much of the land in question is in his district.

"It seems that the added density would not look all that different than what is already being developed," White said, "but the modest increase in density would allow much needed — and much desired — community enhancements to be made, all at the expense of developers."

Within two decades, Hillsborough will have used up its developable land, staff warned, and the county can do more to incentivize construction where people already live. Residents are too far from where they work. The right transportation doesn’t exist to get them to where they need to be.

"We believe we’re at a tipping point," said Lindsey Kimball, the county economic development director, "where it will be critical to make sure land use decisions create jobs and housing balance to maintain our competitiveness and ensure fiscal sustainability."