LUTZ — Less than a year ago, a 300-acre parcel just west of Idlewild Baptist Church was dotted with towering pines and graceful cypress. Cattle quietly greeted motorists passing through the nearby intersection of Van Dyke Road and N Dale Mabry Highway.
Today, the cows are gone and the land is nearly bare, save for several large yellow earthmovers pushing around mounds of freshly excavated dirt. The project doesn't involve the popular church, but it will bring an assisted-living facility, a new school and hundreds of new homes to the property.
Regrettably, it's already brought a flooding problem to the area.
Mark Stuermann, vice president of Arlington Properties, said his company is building 177 apartment homes, ranging from 750 to 1,300 square feet, and expects them to be ready for move-in by late spring.
In addition, CalAtlantic Homes plans to build 200 single-family homes in a new, gated community. The homes, expected to range from 1,800 to nearly 5,900 square feet, also will be available in late spring.
The rural character of the Lutz location attracted the developers, and Lutz Citizens Coalition president Michael White said residents fought to keep that character intact.
"The development overall is only half the size as the county's long-range plan would have allowed there," White said, adding that residents lent support after limiting the project to one access point across from the Van Dyke Commons shopping center on Van Dyke Road.
"We supported the project at the Hillsborough County Planning Commission in 2014. It was a textbook example of how these development projects should go," White said.
Except for one thing: flooding.
The record rainfall that brought deluges throughout Tampa Bay this summer took an unexpected toll on nearby Lake Crenshaw, which sits less than 100 yards south of the development site.
"The problem was that the developers took a gamble when they scraped all 304 acres of the site at one time," White said. "When the rains came, the water overwhelmed the runoff protections in place, and the rain swept into the nearby wetlands and into Lake Crenshaw south of Van Dyke."
He said the runoff turned the lake brown, creating "irreparable damage."
The matter was addressed at a Dec. 2 community meeting at the Jimmie B. Keel Regional Library in Carrollwood led by the Southwest Florida Water Management District and Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist.
One of the key issues raised was how to prevent flooding problems like Lutz residents experienced last summer near Lake Crenshaw.
"Maybe in the future, we will be permitting projects of this magnitude at staggered levels during rainy seasons so you don't have that much exposed dirt that could provide extensive runoff like what happened (at Lake Crenshaw)," Crist said. "We also talked about the drainage system in that area and how to make improvements to it."
Flooding issues aside, White is pleased with how other facets of the development are coming together, including Dale Mabry Academy charter school. The K-8 learning facility will host more than 1,100 students and be located on 23 acres just north of Exciting Idlewild Boulevard.
"That may not be a bad place for a school," White said, commenting on the school's close proximity to North Dale Mabry Highway.
"A lot of times, large charter schools are proposed along two-lane roads that can't handle the extra traffic after the school is built."
A new traffic signal is being installed at N Dale Mabry Highway and Exciting Idlewild Boulevard.
Another major thoroughfare in the development also is being aligned with the Veterans Expressway access point along Dale Mabry to improve traffic flow and accommodate motorists entering and exiting the development.
Contact Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez at [email protected]