VALRICO — After months of protesting at County Commission meetings, organizing town hall meetings and petitioning commissioners, residents opposed to the big-box development next to the Bloomingdale Regional Library met with the developer for the first time.
On June 28, steering committee members of Coordinated Active Neighborhoods for Development Organization, or CAN-DO, met with senior vice president Tom Hand and other executives from Redstone, the developer proposing a big-box store, fast food restaurants and 260 apartments for the Bloomingdale property.
Hand said the developer met with the community group after their attorney, David Singer, received a letter from Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, and after Commissioner Al Higginbotham met with more than 400 concerned residents and urged the developer to hear what the community had to say.
"No one had reached out to us much, prior to Commissioner Higginbotham's meeting," Hand said. "It seemed like suddenly this came about. We wanted to be proactive once we heard about it."
Three Redstone officials met with nine members of CAN-DO at the Bloomingdale Library. Hand said the developer initiated the meeting and wanted to keep it private and small, with most of the details remaining internal.
"We are glad to have initiated a dialogue with Redstone," CAN-DO spokesman Eric Brosch said. "We shared with them the community's concerns and the devastating impact a big-box development will have on this area. We look forward to continuing our dialogue and hope we'll be able to work toward a development that will make sense for this area."
A post on the Bloomingdale Big Box Facebook page echoed the developer's request to "keep the first meeting private and limited without the media or public attending," but expressed concern over private meetings and a desire to schedule another meeting open to the community and the Board of County Commissioners.
"I had made it extremely clear to the developer and Mr. Singer that there would be no discussions or meetings with me until they met with the community," Higginbotham said. "I'm delighted that upon my insistence that they found it appropriate to meet with the community."
Residents have fumed over the plans since they became public earlier this year, insisting the development didn't fit the design of community, would bring even more traffic to failed roads and create safety problems for children in the vicinity. Despite months of media coverage, town hall meetings, a social media campaign and lines of protesters at Hillsborough County Commission meetings, Hand said he and others had not heard much backlash until the last month or so.
"We've kind of kept our heads down and are working and didn't hear a whole bunch of stuff that indicated that there was a problem," Hand said.
Redstone shared some renderings with the CAN-DO committee members and listened to their concerns, Hand said. Some residents expressed a desire to have a development similar to the pedestrian-friendly Winthrop Town Centre and less like a traditional big-box development.
"I think it was very positive," Hand said. "We really listened to what they had to say, and they were receptive to what we've been doing and where we are in the process. We were very happy with how the meeting went, and I think they were too."
Caitlin Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443.