WIMAUMA — Residents warned of traffic congestion and roadkill if a sod farm goes ahead with its plan to build 1,088 homes near environmentally protected land.
Turfgrass America held a community meeting May 28 to explain its plan to build a development called the Reserve at Westlake on its 537-acre farm off West Lake Drive, south of Balm Road and east of U.S. 301.
The meeting was called in response to more than 60 letters opposing the project. The company received the letters days before a rezoning hearing that would have paved the way for construction. That hearing was canceled.
The first phase includes about 500 homes and a two-lane road that would run through preserve land protected by the county's Environmental Land Acquisition and Protection Program.
One ELAPP general committee member called the planned road a "killing wall in a field of death." Wildlife regularly travels through the preserve just north of the planned development, she said.
"ELAPP's whole philosophy is about connecting wildlife habitat corridors, and this flies in the face of that by separating the corridor into two pieces," Mariella Smith said.
Planners will provide wildlife crossings to meet specifications that will be set by the county, said senior project planner John Bowers of WilsonMiller.
The county also requires that planners provide a survey of species found in the area, he said.
Phase 2 of the project, if they're able to buy land west of the property, would include bringing the total number of houses to 1,088 and extending 19th Avenue to West Lake Drive, Bowers added.
Several residents said there will be terrible congestion if they do that.
There's already enough traffic at County Road 674 and West Lake, Dana Phillips said.
If more traffic dumps into that intersection, which doesn't have a signal, there will be more accidents, she said.
"If you can make it work traffic wise and wildlife wise … more power to you," she said. "But I would not personally buy there."
Residents were also concerned about the water source for irrigation and the architectural style of the homes.
Planners didn't have answers because it's too early in the process, they said.
Turfgrass America is going forward with its rezoning application with a hearing in July. County commissioners will have the final say in August.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2443.