TAMPA — No matter what RaceTrac does, its attempt to construct a gas station on the southeast corner of Kings Avenue and Lumsden Road seems to return to one word — wetlands.
Zoning hearing officer Steven Luce recommended against approving the plan in November. So did the Environmental Protection Commission, as the 2.5 acres of land RaceTrac wants to build on includes wetlands.
Yet Hillsborough County commissioners decided in a Dec. 11 meeting to have the hearing officer reconsider the zoning application without considering the impact on the wetlands, which was already being weighed by the EPC.
So on Monday night at County Center, Luce was back to where he started — holding a hearing to decide his recommendation to the County Commission on the gas station's construction.
And so were about 30 residents in opposition, wearing signs on their shirts, jackets and caps that said "Deny 12-0263," referring to RaceTrac's application number.
From the start, RaceTrac attorney Vin Marchetti tried to draw the distinction between meeting the zoning criteria and meeting the environmental criteria. He said the latter is the concern of the EPC, whose decision is currently being appealed, and that the wetlands should not have been brought up in the hearing.
"Everybody wants to talk about the wetlands," he said. "We want to talk about the zoning itself."
Some residents also came out in support of the proposed RaceTrac station, such as Brandon business owners who said a well-lit business with 24-hour security cameras would help curb problems with vandalism and theft in the area.
Yet the majority of community voices remained opposed to the plan. And though some of the complaints leveled at RaceTrac's proposal did not involve the environment, it did not take long for the word wetlands to come up.
Glenn Cabrera, a resident who said he lives less than 400 feet from Kings Avenue and Lumsden Road, believes the intersection already suffers from problems with traffic and design flaws. But building on the land would be problematic, he said, as so much of the property is wetlands.
"There would be a dirt shortage in Tampa to do that, because it is a swamp in there," Cabrera said.
Other concerns brought up by residents included the presence of wildlife such as bobcats and foxes. This seemed to frustrate Marchetti, who cited concerns of due process in not separating the discussion of zoning criteria and the wetlands.
"It's not about bobcats," he said.
In turn, this seemed to frustrate opponents like community activist Terry Flott, who said RaceTrac "created the confusion" and that she felt like she couldn't even say the word wetland in discussing her objections.
"You can't speak about this zoning without mentioning the word wetland," she said.
Luce has 15 working days from Monday's hearing to file his recommendation to the Board of County Commissioners. The commissioners are scheduled to meet April 9 to discuss the issue in a land use meeting.
Jimmy Geurts can be reached at email@example.com.