Hillsborough commissioners gearing up to fight South Shore development over costs of widening Big Bend Road
TAMPA -- Hillsborough County commissioners on Wednesday delayed a proposal to build new warehouse space in South Shore over concerns the developer isn’t paying its fair share of the cost to improve roads near the new construction. And they may take the fight to court.
Duke Realty has an existing agreement with Hillsborough to build 1.5 million square feet of warehouse space and 28,000 square feet of retail on Big Bend Road near U.S. 41 in Gibsonton. The expected rise in traffic will require the widening of Big Bend from four lanes to six between U.S. 41 and Waterset Boulevard at a cost that could reach $5 million.
The agreement proceeded a 2009 state law that limited how much county’s can charge for new infrastructure needed to pay for new development, but construction on the project never started. Now, Duke said the county must abide by the new law, which means the company would only need to pay for $34,000 of the expense under an amended agreement. Before that law, the company would’ve had to pay for most of those costs.
Commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to ask Attorney General Pam Bondi to clarify whether an agreements in place before 2009 must follow the legislature’s new rules in hopes of getting a response before they meet next in December.
“I find this to be absolutely egregious,” said Commissioner Stacy White. “I’m very concerned about frankly what I perceive to be a lack of partnership (with the developer) for the betterment of our community.”
Duke’s attorney, Ronald Christaldi, accepted the county’s delay but he also threatened that changes to the agreement by the county will kill the development.
“The project won’t go forward and there will be nothing put forward toward (widening) Big Bend road,” he said.
Christaldi also noted that the county has already made similar amendments for other developments, and said if the developer started the process over, then Duke would only be required to pay $34,000.
Several commissioners expressed doubt whether Bondi’s office will offer an opinion by December.
That means the dispute could end up in court. So far, the courts have not said whether existing agreements, and not just those put in place after 2009, must follow the new funding formula.
Previously, if a developer wanted to build homes, businesses or offices along an already crowded road, local government could force the developer to pay to widen the road to create room for more cars. Now that same developer only has to pay an amount that's based on the proportion of new vehicles the specific project is contributing to overall traffic.
Commissioner Kevin Beckner said that would be a fight worth pursuing.
“We have an obligation to stand up for the people who elected us and make a case,” Beckner said. “Whether we win, to me, we’re standing up for the people.”
However, the debate isn’t occurring in a vacuum. Hillsborough is also considering new mobility fees that would charge developers more for new infrastructure, and Tallahassee will likely be watching closely to ensure the county is trying to work around the 2009 law.
Commissioner Sandy Murman said crossing lawmakers could hurt their efforts.
“Going against the state on something like this,” Murman said, “Could be detrimental to what we’re trying to do on mobility fees as we move forward.”