Hillsborough County commissioners affirmed this week what residents have been saying all along: that the infrastructure surrounding 19 agricultural acres in Valrico could not support a proposed retail and office park.
In a 5-2 vote, commissioners denied a developer's application to rezone the land bordered by Lithia-Pinecrest, Brooker and Valrico roads. Residents left Tuesday's land-use meeting clapping and yelling, "thank you."
"We're thrilled," resident Lynea D'Angelo said after the vote. "We've put thousands of hours of effort into this as a community."
Attorney Vincent Marchetti, who represents property owner GLH Enterprises, said he was "flabbergasted" at the commission's decision. A zoning hearing master and Planning & Growth Management recommended approval contingent upon the developer meeting numerous conditions. Planning Commission officials determined the rezoning to be consistent with the county's comprehensive plan.
"When you meet all the requirements that the government set out and you deny the project," Marchetti said, "you're asking for a lawsuit."
The lawyer said he's not sure what his client's next move will be.
Commissioners Jim Norman and Kevin White voted in favor of the rezoning. Al Higginbotham, whose district includes the disputed site, was among the five commissioners to vote against it.
An expected increase of 4,500 cars a day traveling in the area left several commissioners concerned about potential traffic problems.
"The infrastructure is not there today," Commissioner Kevin Beckner said.
Of the 100,000-square feet proposed for development, the land owner agreed to build just 25,000-square feet until the county widens Lithia-Pinecrest Road. However, funding to widen the failing roadway is not available, a county spokesman said.
Hundreds of residents have made their stance clear over the past eight months. They showed up at meetings and public hearings, often wearing red and displaying signs and stickers opposing the development.
"This will significantly alter the character of not just ours, but surrounding neighborhoods," resident Deborah Humphrey said before the votes were cast.
In trying to alleviate concerns of residents and county staff, Marchetti said developers amended the site plan at least six times, changing both its appearance and the project's time frame.
Other conditions included: decreasing the number of entrances, limiting business operation hours and finishing garbage bins in material similar to the structures.
Marchetti turned down an opportunity for the commission to vote on remanding the item, saying his client had already met every requirement and condition set forth.
Residents have shown support for the development, the attorney said. But none spoke up at the land-use meeting or in front of the zoning hearing master.
"People do support this project," he told commissioners.
Several in the crowd quickly replied: "That's not true."
Kevin Smetana can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2439.