LITHIA — The FishHawk Sports Complex will add four new soccer fields after residents gave the revised expansion plan a thumbs-up at a public meeting.
The expansion on 15 acres in FishHawk Ranch will include four adult-sized soccer fields, lighting, a concession stand, bathrooms and parking.
County officials have already started preliminary work, which should be complete by 2014.
"It's a win-win situation for everyone," said Mark Thornton, director of Hillsborough County's Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department.
Newland Communities, FishHawk's developer, donated the land. The property, north of FishHawk Boulevard, is a state-protected habitat for tortoises. The animals will be moved to a new home nearby under a proposed deal with state environmental officials, Thornton told the meeting of some 50 residents.
The smiles and handshakes that greeted the revised expansion plan were a marked contrast to the reaction from some residents to the county's initial expansion plan, presented last December, which envisioned four new fields behind the Starling neighborhood.
"I was thinking of selling my home and I wasn't the only one," said Jeff Dunlap, a Starling resident. Under the original design "I was going to go from a view of nature out my back window to the view of a parking lot. But Newland and the county did the right thing. I am ecstatic with the new plan."
FishHawk Sports Complex was completed in 2008 with eight ballfields, four multipurpose fields, a concession stand, restrooms and parking. But the explosive growth of youth sports in the area means local teams now have to travel out of the area to play.
"It's critical," said Joe Kurtz, president of the FishHawk Soccer Club, which fielded more than 1,600 players this year. "We are so overcrowded the existing fields are not enough."
Soccer in FishHawk is at 170 percent field utilization, the highest in the county, meaning the area has many more players than the county can provide space for, according to the parks department.
"The county listened and the residents got what they needed," said Mark Hayes, a FishHawk resident who attended the Wednesday night meeting at the Palmetto Club. "It's great to see it happen."
The $2.8 million project, funded by parks department impact fees, will also include field improvements and new lighting at two existing sports fields at Randall Middle School.
The new lighting will be installed by January in time for the start of the new lacrosse and soccer seasons, Thornton said.
The four new soccer fields — 330 feet by 210 feet — will be able to accommodate eight youth soccer games at a time with games for 12-year-olds and under.
Work remains to hammer out details of the deal between county and state officials, but Thornton believes the expansion plan could be before the County Commission by February.
"We are looking at about 18 months (to complete the project) if we can get started in the dry season," Thornton said.
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