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Sunset Lane residents object to new school

LUTZ — Mike White printed fliers that he and other worried neighbors distributed to hundreds of homes off Sunset Lane, a busy, two-lane road.

The door-to-door blitz brought out dozens of residents to a Hills­borough County zoning meeting this week, many wearing T-shirts that urged, "No School on Sunset!''

They asked hearing master Steve Luce to deny a special land use permit that would allow Learning Gate charter school to build a high school with an entrance off Sunset Lane.

Speaking in front of a packed hearing room at County Center, White cited studies that the school's impact would increase traffic on Sunset Lane by 38.2 percent during peak hours in peak season. Combined with the vehicles dropping off and picking up at Lutz Learning Center, which is directly across the street, the volume would increase 60 percent during peak hours, he said.

Sunset Lane serves as the main access road for police, fire and paramedics between U.S. 41 and neighborhoods to the east, said White, a Tampa Fire Rescue captain.

"To increase its traffic load will result in longer response times and increased danger to residents and motorists," he said.

Others complained that the school plans to build its main entrance — off U.S. 41 — across a wetland. And some residents worried about the school's consumption of water in an area that relies on wells, fearing that will lead to more sinkholes.

Almost as many people turned out to support the school, to be called Gates High School. A number of them live in other parts of the county as well as Pasco County and are drawn to Learning Gate because of its excellent reputation. Learning Gate operates a kindergarten through sixth-grade school on Hanna Avenue and is leasing another building on U.S. 41 for seventh through 10th grades. Gates High School is expected to eventually have 1,000 students.

Patti Girard, executive director of the Learning Gate Education Foundation, said the school will stagger the times that each grade arrives and departs to ease the burden on Sunset Lane. An engineer on the development team said turn lanes would be added on Sunset.

Addressing environmental concerns, Girard said the school wants to use the wetlands as a teaching tool, so most of the 62 acres will stay in its natural state.

Yvette Robitaille, who lives in the neighborhood, warned that a developer less sensitive to the needs of wetlands could buy there if the school isn't allowed. She fears it could become an eyesore, mentioning a stalled development at Livingston Avenue and Max Smith Road.

"That property now sits empty, with infrastructure and weeds,'' she said.

The planning staff found the Gates proposal to be consistent with the county's comprehensive plan, and the project has received initial approval by the county Environmental Protection Commission. Luce asked the developers to provide proof that the owner of adjacent property will allow an easement to build the access road off U.S. 41.

Luce has 15 working days to make his decision. The losing side can appeal his ruling to the Land Use Appeals Board.

Philip Morgan can be reached at pmorgan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3435.

Sunset Lane residents object to new school 05/17/12 [Last modified: Thursday, May 17, 2012 4:30am]
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