DADE CITY — In its fourth appearance before the county's top staff planners, the Imagine charter school almost squeaked by — but couldn't.
After a two-hour debate Thursday, the proposal for a 36,000-square-foot, 480-student K-8 charter school in Land O'Lakes narrowly survived a 3-2 motion for denial before the Development Review Committee. But the committee kicked the final vote to its next meeting in three weeks.
County Administrator John Gallagher said the school's controversial traffic-heavy location looks like it would be approved with a swathe of conditions, but asked for the postponement — drawing a low moan of anguish from those in the audience who have followed Imagine's troubled quest for months — because he believed unhappy neighbors would appeal the committee's approval to the County Commission.
"We just want to make sure we get all the conditions in order," he said.
Even if Imagine gets its green light from the committee on Aug. 14 to build on 3.7 acres at Morgan Road and U.S. 41, it would still need the state Department of Transportation to sign off on new turn lanes on U.S. 41 to prevent cars stacking on the crowded artery.
The department won't agree to a traffic light at that intersection, but the developer's attorney, Tim Hayes, said Imagine would pay to have sheriff's deputies provide traffic safety supervision.
"We would provide crossing guards with the Sheriff's Department during peak hours of the school's operation," he said. "As long as we made turn lanes north and south, (DOT) feels it would be enhancement."
Imagine also has agreed to cover the outstanding tab to get crossing gates erected on Morgan Road straddling the CSX Corp. railroad.
The FDOT representative, Susan Van Hoose, appeared tentatively agreeable to these conditions Thursday, but still wanted to be sure there was enough right-of-way on U.S. 41 to allow for the turn lanes.
But the proposal has other concerns. County officials warned that CSX has said it may take more than a year to approve new gates for the crossing over its tracks.
"We wouldn't want to see the start of construction and you get to the Certificate of Occupancy, and nothing's done (on the signalization of the railroad crossing)," said county planner Paul Montante.
Neighbors were divided.
"Our neighbors are in their 80s," said Douglas McDowell, a Morgan Road resident. "We are talking about an intersection that is dangerous."
"In general, our neighborhood is in favor of the school," said Dave Rabon, who represented the nearby Sunset Lakes subdivision. "It's very frustrating that we need a school and traffic lights at that intersection, and to have people performing heroic efforts to get it done, but then to have agencies that just don't seem to want to cooperate with each other."
In other matters Thursday, an 85-home equestrian development off Christian Road and Powerline Road, the proposed Trilby Estates residential community, remains dogged by water woes two years after winning a rezoning approval from county commissioners.
The development's proximity to a water main line on U.S. 301 triggers a county rule that requires fire hydrants. Neighbors say they don't want Trilby Estates to stress local wells; the developers said the requirement for a public water system isn't necessary.
The committee delayed its decision for two more months after more than an hour on Thursday spent quarreling over whether Trilby Estates should extend a public water system into the development or be permitted to go ahead with private wells.
Chuin-Wei Yap can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4613.