VALRICO — More than 200 people packed a room at the Bloomingdale Regional Library on Tuesday night to oppose a planned big-box development on an adjacent plot of land, and six residents went before the Hillsborough County Commission on Wednesday morning to speak against the project.
The group of residents in the Bloomingdale area near Lithia Pinecrest Road discussed options for voicing their disapproval of the site plan Redstone Development submitted to Hillsborough County officials.
The plan outlines a big-box store, five outparcels and 261 apartments on the property east of the library. It's unclear what kind of retail outlet would anchor the development, but it's been widely speculated that it's a Walmart.
Community leaders and residents say the development would have a negative impact on the area. They are concerned about noise, traffic, lighting, safety, commerce, school overcrowding and harm to the ecosystem.
In short, the residents don't think this type of development is needed or wanted, they don't like the design, and they worry that the project will disrupt the sense of community they have come to appreciate, given the ballfields, YMCA, library and schools in the immediate area.
"Our ground game is working, but we need more," said Fred Brown, president of the Lithia Oaks homeowners association. "We need to put pressure on the commissioners and the county."
During the commission meeting, Commissioners Ken Hagan and Al Higginbotham said they had asked Hillsborough County attorney Chip Fletcher to review the possibility of delaying the project even though the public notice of the land development change went through in 2011.
"We understand your concerns," Hagan said. "We're not ignoring them, believe me. We just have to be mindful of the law and work within those parameters at the same time."
After Wednesday's meeting, however, Fletcher issued an opinion that, based on the developer's application, the project only has to go through administrative review and doesn't have to go before the board.
Much of the concern centered on the public notice of land development code change. Tammy Madison, Lithia Lakes HOA secretary, took issue with the printed notice that included a diagram of the Ruskin Town Center. That 2011 notice allowed for a mixed-use development plan, including residential.
"This is ridiculous. I think it's terrible," Madison said. "Not very many people around here would think this applies to us. It's deceiving."
Mark Nash agreed. Nash, who grew up in Brandon in the 1960s and challenged Higginbotham for the District 4 seat last year, recommended everyone email all seven county commissioners to get on the record.
"The public notice was not very well communicated to the public," Nash said. "This (meeting attendance) is a great sign the public is done being pushed around."
The concerned residents, who are calling themselves Bloomingdale Big Box and have created website and Facebook pages, also want the board to put the issue on a regular meeting agenda since they can no longer can have a public hearing.
"Currently, the opportunity for public hearings, as outlined in the Land Development Code, has passed," Rich Reidy, Hagan's legislative aide, wrote in an email to residents interested in the Bloomingdale-Lithia Pinecrest Development.
These residents have formed nearly 10 volunteer committees for outreach, research and information gathering on various topics. They have requested regular weekly updates from the county's development services division and the communications department.
"It's not going to be a quick fix," Brown said. "We need to gear up for a long fight."
Eric Vician can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.