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Fate of pasture developer wants rezoned should be decided with good reasoning

It's an oddly-shaped, 19-acre piece of property, carved out of long-ago horse trails that now serve as our suburban roads.

It's bordered to the east by the diagonal Lithia-Pinecrest Road, to the west by the sloping South Valrico Road and to the north by Brooker Road. You could drive by it 100 times and see it as just another abandoned citrus grove now playing host to cows.

However, this triangular pasture is actually a wedge between the owner who wants it rezoned from agricultural to retail-office project and the weary neighbors who can't believe the county would invite more traffic to their already clogged roads.

Last month, more than 100 neighbors from the bordering subdivisions jammed into a room at the Bloomingdale Public Library to hear attorney Vincent Marchetti and other officials who work for property owner GLH Enterprises detail the merits of the proposal. It features office buildings on the northern border facing Brooker and retail outlets, including a 40,000 square foot anchor, deeper inside.

To win over the residents, the developers came equipped with maps, illustrations and a lot of explanations about meeting county standards.

Marchetti said the actual project might not be built for another 10 years. He pointed out that design features would accentuate the character of the existing neighborhood.

It didn't matter. University of Florida football coach Urban Meyer would have fared better trying to win over the Seminole Booster Club meeting.

Not that I necessarily blame the residents.

The meeting ran two hours, but in the end the discontent of the homeowners could be reduced to a few simple arguments.

No. 1, of course, was traffic. Even though the developer presented a study indicating Brooker and Valrico could handle more volume, neighbors told a different story.

In the morning, residents struggle to exit onto Brooker from subdivision entrances and driveways. Although the county installed a traffic light at Brooker and Lithia-Pinecrest in recent years, it's still a challenge to turn left onto Brooker during rush hour.

In the afternoon, a blinding sun makes the narrow, sloping Valrico Road, even more treacherous. In the past eight years, cars have twice hit a home at the intersection of Valrico and Brooker.

And, of course, Lithia-Pinecrest consistently draws an "F" rating from transportation experts, and even the developer's study confirmed its flaws. The problems with of that primary artery are well-documented, and until the roads are significantly improved, you can't talk about adding retail anywhere along that road.

That should be enough to end the debate, in my mind. But the residents also expressed concerns about potential increases in flooding, pollution and crime.

Developers expressed a willingness to tweak the design and make concessions, but the consensus among residents is that this commercial project doesn't belong in its residential area.

The group is organized and ready to take the battle to County Center. I like their chances of getting the rezoning permit denied. And if it were me, I would push the county to buy the land and turn it into a low-use park, maybe with a small playground, a running trail and limited parking.

But let me say this: the argument against the project can be made without emotional outbursts or insults. Don't get me wrong. Most of the people showed the proper degree of respect for Marchetti and his colleagues, but a few times civility got lost.

One resident called the project, which the developers obviously put a lot of work into, a "monstrosity." Another said the developers were not to be trusted and the property owner, ophthalmologist Gregory Henderson, was violating his oath to do no harm. Other catcalls of cynicism peppered the meeting.

The developers, however, are just trying to do right by their client. The client simply wants to increase the return on his investment. I understand they wield a lot of influence and their goals may conflict with the desires of the neighbors.

But they're not criminals.

Ultimately, this is about how county government and the commission represents the residents vs. the owner. They're the arbiters.

I know when you're talking about a home, a person's most important investment, emotions can run high. I know I might have the same "not in my backyard" attitude if this were my neighborhood.

In the end, however, it's facts and reason, not hyperbole and histrionics that should win the day.

That's all I'm saying.

Fate of pasture developer wants rezoned should be decided with good reasoning 07/09/09 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:41pm]
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