Wimauma has a revitalization plan and it’s already paying off in business

WIMAUMA — Affordable housing, better roads and new schools are in. Gated communities are out.

Improving lives in the largely Hispanic community of Wimauma got a big push forward Tuesday when leaders in government, business and the nonprofit sector gathered to celebrate approval of plans for a sweeping new urban and commercial development initiative.

Called the Wimauma Village Neighborhood Plan, the initiative was approved in October by the Hillsborough County Commission as part of the county’s comprehensive plan. It takes in an unincorporated south county region of 25 square miles.

The plan immediately opened the door for Tarcila Pimentel to open the laundromat she has long envisioned on land she owns along downtown Wimauma’s main drag, State Road 674. Last month, Pimentel — a wife and mother of three grown children — received county approval for construction . She plans to employ three or more people.

“It has not been easy because I encountered many obstacles along the way, but now I am very hopeful of moving my project forward,” said Pimentel, 55, a Guatemalan immigrant.

Details about the plan were presented during a news conference Tuesday at El Sol restaurant.

“This is a great day for us,” said Elizabeth Gutierrez, founder of the nonprofit Enterprising Latinas, who helped develop the plan. “It’s a pleasure to announce such beautiful news and celebrate so many things that are happening in Wimauma.”

The plan establishes rules for development in the largely rural Wimauma area, with a focus on sustainability, equity, resilience and health. It calls for improving public spaces and infrastructure, including expansion of sewer and water service to encourage commercial development along SR 674. Pedestrian walkways and bike paths are provided for along with road improvements. So are open spaces to protect rural and conservation areas.

New development must include a mix of housing types to create options for families, according to the plan. It provides to develop affordable housing for a diverse population with a range of income levels. To foster economic integration, there will be no gated subdivisions.

The plan takes effect as southern Hillsborough County experiences explosive residential development, straining infrastructure, schools and other government services.

And it targets a population at the lower end of the local economy: Average annual income in Wimauma is $12,290 for women, $19,550 for men, according to the Census. That compares with $31,173 countywide. Nearly one in four people in Wimauma live in poverty and 44 percent of those 25 and older lack a high school degree.

Tarcila Pimentel of Wimauma, speaking here at a Tuesday news conference with attorney Edward Reyes, was encouraged by the new Wimauma revitalization plan to open a laundromat in the south Hillsborough community. [ JUAN CARLOS CHAVEZ | Times ]

The two-year process of creating the plan was led by Taryn Sabia, director of the University of South Florida’s Florida Center for Community Design and Research. Among collaborators were Enterprising Latinas and the nonprofit Wimauma Community Development Corp.

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They sought out community input along the way. One of those who weighed in was Carmen Galarza of Wimauma, owner of Custom Cakes by Carmen. Galarza said she had seen little hope for growing her business.

“But today, because of the updated neighborhood plan and the new investments planned for my community, I can plan to build a successful business here,” she said.

The Wimauma plan and Hillsborough County’s broader comprehensive plan also pave the way for three new schools on 100 acres east of West Lake Drive at the western edge of Wimauma’s downtown. Making them possible are road improvements the plans spell out along West Lake Drive and Bishop Road, including their intersections with SR 674 and US 301.

Over the next 15 years, the Hillsborough County School District must build 18 schools, most of them in the southern county region, Addison Davis, superintendent of the Hillsborough Schools District, said at the news conference.

“Here, we’ll provide a sophisticated and robust structure that will really prepare our students for the future,” Davis said.

County Commissioner Mariella Smith sees many benefits for Wimauma in the new guiding principles and land regulations.

“This plan allows the community to maintain its unique character as it grows in a way we can all be proud of,” Smith said.

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