TAMPA — In an order signed this month, a Hillsborough Circuit Court judge upheld a decision by the County Commission to deny rezoning a triangular piece of agricultural land in Valrico for commercial use.
Developers had proposed turning the 19-acre plot once devoted to orange groves and cow pastures into a 100,000-square-foot retail and office park, perhaps with second-floor apartments. But the rezoning request drew concerns last year from county commissioners and hundreds of neighbors about a possible shopping center sending a spike in traffic to the bordering Lithia-Pinecrest, Brooker and Valrico roads.
Attorneys for the property owner, Gregory Henderson of GLH Enterprises, argued in an April 4 court hearing that they had gone through all the appropriate measures for the rezoning application, and traffic issues would be resolved in later stages of development.
Vincent Marchetti, who represents GLH Enterprises, said last week he was "surprised and disappointed" at the judge's June 7 decision. Marchetti said the company is considering its next steps. Two options, he said, may be to appeal to the state's 2nd District Court of Appeal, which has to be done within 30 days of the ruling, or submit another rezoning application to the county.
Concerned neighbors attended public hearings throughout the two-year process to contest the possibility of a shopping center in their back yards. When Valrico resident Deborah Humphrey found out about the judge's order, she sent an e-mail to 325 people with the subject line "Petition denied."
The rezoning application gained approval from various county reviewers, including the land-use hearing officer. But at the final hearing in front of commissioners and hundreds of concerned residents in January 2010, the County Commission denied the petition because it didn't fit with the comprehensive plan that governs the county's future growth.
Lithia-Pinecrest Road, on the edge of the property, has long been flagged as a failing roadway without the funds for widening it.
Circuit Judge Robert A. Foster Jr. examined the civil case to check that the County Commission followed all of its requirements in rejecting the rezoning, he wrote in his ruling, not as an authority reconsidering evidence or making a new judgment.
Foster cited the county's Land Development Code, deciding that the County Commission was within its jurisdiction in turning down the rezoning application. Commissioners gave "substantial evidence," Foster found, for why the request didn't suit the comprehensive plan.
Stephanie Wang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443.