VALRICO — The protest against the proposed big-box development next to the Bloomingdale Regional Library marches on, even as the county maintains there are no legal issues to prevent the developer from carrying out its plans.
Despite continual reinforcement from the Hillsborough County attorney that county commissioners' hands are tied, residents continue to rally in hopes of preventing the multi-use project that will include a big-box retail outlet and apartments.
The residents in the Bloomingdale area near Lithia Pinecrest Road disapprove of the site plan Redstone Development submitted to Hillsborough County officials outlining a big-box store, five outparcels and 261 apartments on the property east of the library. No retail outlet has been named, but that hasn't stopped many from speculating it's a Walmart.
County Commissioner Al Higginbotham agreed to meet with concerned members of the community on Monday, but irked residents during the scheduling process by choosing a location away from the development and drafting an agenda that focused less on community input and more on a presentation of how things got to this point.
"We're disappointed that we wanted to have a community discussion and this meeting is not going to be a discussion and it's not going to be in our community," said Jereme Monette, who lives across the street from the development and is the president of Bloomingdale Ridge Homeowners Association. "But we'll take what we can get and we're excited to, at the very least, be able to speak with him Monday."
County Attorney Chip Fletcher reiterated that the commission can do little to stop the project. Because the preliminary site plan was approved, the opposition group has no legal path to appeal until a construction plan has passed. Commissioners' attempts to interfere could risk a lawsuit for the county.
While Higginbotham and his office try to find ways to appease the residents, County Commissioner Ken Hagan wrote a sternly worded letter imploring the attorney for Redstone Development to meet with residents.
"It's the height of arrogance," Hagan said of Redstone's refusal to communicate with the community. "I certainly didn't learn in business school that that's the way you want to handle your relationships in the community. The good and responsible developers go out of their way to meet, get input and feedback, and cooperate where they can with the neighborhoods. So far it appears that this developer has done the exact opposite."
David Singer, attorney for Redstone, said his client has no comment on the growing unrest in the community and Hagan's letter.
Residents are concerned with the effect it will have on home values, traffic, the environment and pedestrian safety — especially for kids walking to the nearby schools.
"The county attorney told (county commissioners) to not get involved in this, but you know what, they're the ones that voted for it," Lithia Oaks resident Fred Brown said. "They are responsible for this project and getting the mixed-used development approved. Had they come out there and looked at this land and this area and the traffic, I don't think anyone in their right mind could sit there and say this is good for the community."
Traffic remains a top concern for the proposed development. Lithia Pinecrest is listed as a failed road — meaning the number of vehicles on the road exceeds the adopted level of service. And the announcement of a new Wawa set to open in spring of 2014 at the northwest corner of Bloomingdale and Lithia Pinecrest only increases concerns for the already over-crowded roadways.
"If we can somehow get the community and developer to the table together, hopefully we can come up with a plan that will be beneficial for everyone," Monette said. "We're not trying to stop development, we're trying to prevent reckless development."
Caitlin Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443.