SUN CITY — Just north of the Manatee County border, a pepper farm sits off U.S. 41. Wetlands, which dot the 390 acres, interrupt its neat rows.
But if a development company gets its way, a 2.6 million-square-foot industrial facility will replace the farm, which abuts more than 2,500 acres of conservation land.
Before Inland Port Systems can even get the permits to build a large warehouse that will help distribute goods that come through the ports of Tampa and Manatee County, Hillsborough County must amend its Comprehensive Plan to allow for it. A public hearing on the issue takes place June 8.
In documents submitted by Wilson Miller, planners admit that the proximity to wetlands and conservation land initially posed a problem.
Conservation land scheduled for restoration by the Southwest Florida Water Management District surrounds three sides of the property. On a map, the farm sticks out like a puzzle piece in the restoration project — and the water district wants it. Swiftmud has been trying to buy it from owner J.T. Reeder for years, but his asking price was too high.
If the county allows its development, Inland Port Systems execs say they will help with the restoration. They've proposed to zone about 300 acres for light-industrial use and about 90 acres for nature preservation. They also say their warehouse is better for the environment than a farm because they'll treat the water before it leaves, and they won't have agricultural runoff laden with fertilizers and pesticides.
Still, one group of neighbors worries. Sundance Homeowners Association members think there isn't enough buffering of the wetlands. They also expect an increase in trucks traveling nearby roads, said board member Ralph Greenlee.
He wrote a letter to the planning committee complaining that the proposed development goes against the South Side Community Plan. He called it "an affront to the men and women who have sacrificed for their community."
He called on committee members to reject the amendment.
So far, local agencies are okay with the plan amendment.
Even the Environmental Protection Commission didn't have any problems with it. Commission official Gordon Leslie simply warned that industrial facilities often create noise, odor, dust and smoke, which the EPC regulates. And the commission's go-ahead doesn't mean it will grant permits requested down the road.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443.