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Foes mobilize against plan for housing on sod farm

WIMAUMA — The owner of a 537-acre sod farm wants county commissioners to rezone the property, paving the way for construction of 1,088 homes.

Turfgrass America had planned to make its case for creating a planned development called the Reserve at Westlake on its land — located off West Lake Drive, south of Balm Road and east of U.S. 301 — before a county zoning official last month.

But company representatives asked to postpone that meeting after receiving more than 60 letters opposed to the project just days before the hearing.

"We're still working on going through those letters, trying to get a complete picture," said project planner James Ratliff, who works for WilsonMiller.

Turfgrass America representatives will have a community meeting to address concerns later this month, he said.

Criticism in many of the letters has focused on the proposed roads: an extension connecting 19th Avenue to West Lake Drive and a road north through Hillsborough County's Balm Scrub Preserve.

In an e-mail rallying residents to speak out, Ruskin activist Mariella Smith said both "would have terrible environmental impacts."

Traffic on the roads would harm animals living nearby, Sierra Club Tampa Bay Group chairwoman Bev Griffiths said.

"Even with wildlife crossings, there will be a high mortality rate," she wrote in a letter to county officials last month.

But Ratliff said roads, used by farm trucks and county vehicles, already exist on the property.

"That's one of the reasons we want to have the community meeting," Ratliff said, "to clarify a lot of misunderstandings that we've come across so far."

Staff reports from county planners have recommended approval of the zoning change.

Before officials postponed last month's hearing, another concern came up.

Balm Civic Association president Marcella O'Steen questioned whether Turfgrass America controlled all the property included in its rezoning application.

Company representatives said they owned the land. County staffers said they were looking into the issue.

Turfgrass America representatives are scheduled to present their case before a county zoning official next month.

County commissioners will have the final say.

They are scheduled to vote on the rezoning in August.

Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at cshoichet@sptimes.com or 661-2454.

Foes mobilize against plan for housing on sod farm 05/08/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 9, 2008 11:41am]
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