BRANDON — County Commissioner Al Higginbotham made good on his promise Monday night to listen to a group of residents who oppose a planned big-box development next to their Bloomingdale neighborhoods. What he heard from the more than 400 people at the Brandon Recreation Center, and from 44 who publicly addressed him, was that they want action.
The residents understand that the site development process for a 43.5-acre plan including a big-box store, 261 residential units, restaurants and more is past the point of zoning and public input, but they don't accept it. One by one they told Higginbotham why the plan to bring this to an undeveloped plot of land next to the Bloomingdale Regional Library is bad.
"I thought it was a good exchange," Higginbotham said. "We are urging this developer to meet with the public, and will continue to encourage them to meet with the public and with the commission."
Calling the development "Al's Big Box" and "Al's Bloomingdale Walmart," they blamed him and Hillsborough county commissioners for allowing it to happen during a 2011 rezoning process that converted the land, originally zoned for big-box and residential use in 2003, to a mixed-use development.
At times, the speakers grew intense. One demanded that Higginbotham look him in the eye when he spoke to him. Another pulled out his wallet and offered the commissioner cash, insinuating that Higginbotham had been influenced by Redstone, the developer of the project.
Several said they would throw their support behind Higginbotham's opponent in the upcoming election. He represents the eastern part of the county but is running for a countywide commission seat in 2014. School Board member April Griffin and Tampa council member Mary Mulhern also have filed to run for the seat.
Residents from communities near Bloomingdale High School and the Campo Family YMCA took turns citing traffic, safety, environmental and economic apprehensions. Many offered potential legal remedies, and the organization behind the meeting, Coordinated Active Neighborhoods for Development Organization, or CAN-DO, distributed media kits to reporters with maps, news clippings and documents pertaining to the issue.
They even suggested the county buy the land for about $3.2 million and convert it to a park.
"This has been an interesting night," Higginbotham told the residents. "This isn't easy for me, but somebody has to come out here and start the dialogue. When I see something that is not right, I try to find a way to right it."
Higginbotham said Redstone has until August to submit its final detailed plans for the development.
Otherwise it will not be approved.
Times staff writer Caitlin Johnston contributed to this report. Eric Vician can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.