VALRICO — They spoke at a County Commission meeting, organized town halls, gathered more than 600 signatures on a petition and are preparing for a rally Tuesday.
But the group of concerned East Hillsborough residents protesting the development of a big-box retail outlet and apartments next to the Bloomingdale Regional Library is stuck in a holding zone.
Because the preliminary site plan was approved, the group, calling itself CAN-DO (Coordinated Active Neighborhoods for Development Organization), has no legal path to appeal until a construction plan has passed. Until then, they are working on raising awareness and gathering support.
"Now that word is getting out about this development and how mismatched it is for the schools, churches, and neighborhoods around it, residents are upset, and the push for sensible development is gaining momentum," said Tammy Madison, secretary of the Lithia Oaks Homeowners Association and member of the CAN-DO steering committee. "Residents need to contact their county commissioners, especially Al Higginbotham, and tell their neighbors to keep the pressure on."
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.
"I can only deal with facts," Commissioner Al Higginbotham said, regarding growing citizen concern. "Nothing has been released that says it is any particular store."
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.
"Whether it's a Walmart or any other big box, we don't want it on that land," said Dan Grant, Lithia Oaks resident and CAN-DO member. "We know the land's going to be developed and we would like to work with the county and the developer about what's best for the neighborhood, but obviously their intent and their goal and their success has been to block us out of that process."
The group invited Higginbotham to attend a meeting and explain why he believes the plan will bring "economic development and stability" to the area, Grant said.
The county attorney filed a legal opinion on the subject after members of the group shared their concerns at the April 17 Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners meeting and sent letters to Higginbotham and other commissioners.
The project is zoned as a mixed used development and has received preliminary site plan approval. The proposed supercenter and apartments are within the zone uses and thus meet all regulations, the legal opinion said.
"Any attempt by the Board of County Commissioners or any individual Commissioner to insert itself into this decision making process would have the potential to create significant liability for the County and should therefore be avoided," the document said.
Though citizens can't appeal the preliminary site approval, they will have another chance if a construction plan is approved. Residents have 30 days within filing of the construction plan to issue a technical appeal to the Development Services department and then a Land Use Hearing Officer would hold a hearing. However, the appeal can only be filed by a property owner within 500 feet of the proposed development — in this case, those in the Lithia Oaks neighborhood.
CAN-DO invites members of the public to join in a protest from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday lining the streets of Bloomingdale Avenue and Lithia Pinecrest near the land parcel.
"We had an overflow crowd at our last neighborhood meeting, so we are spilling out into the streets to make sure everyone knows about this mismatched development," Madison said. "We need everyone to come out to say no more traffic, no more unsafe intersections, no more school overcrowding, no more decrease in property values, no more environmental devastation, no Bloomingdale big box store."
The group will hold another public meeting at 7:30 p.m. May 14 at the Palms Community Church at 1310 E Bloomingdale Road, just west of Bloomingdale High School.
Caitlin Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443.