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SouthShore & Brandon Times: Year In Review

For the SouthShore & Brandon area, change underscored many of 2013's most newsworthy events.

The improving economy spurred major development projects. Bass Pro Shops' impending arrival will amp up Brandon's status as a shopping mecca, Amazon's fulfillment center in Ruskin will forever change the face of that community and a proposed big-box outlet on Bloomingdale Avenue revived the long-standing suburban battle between residents and developers.

Development wasn't the only change agent in 2013. As always, crime continued to pierce our idyllic perspective about suburbia.

Elsewhere, sinkholes literally changed the landscape, the county changed how it collects trash and animal services changed how it regulates the cat population, but not without controversy.

Advocacy groups changed how we view human sex trafficking, and candidates looked to change the School Board.

And at its best, a survivor changed how we define courage.

Development

Bass Pro/TopGolf

In February, county commissioners voted 6-1 to approve a $6.25 million subsidy for road improvements to the Estuary shopping complex across from Westfield Brandon mall to bring a Bass Pro Shops to the area.

The plans were expected to lure other large retailers to the area as well, with Bass Pro serving as an anchor. The sports entertainment complex TopGolf announced in early December that it would open a location in Brandon, it's first in Florida and 14th overall. TopGolf expects to open the facility in fall 2014. Bass Pro Shops anticipates a 2015 opening, depending on the construction permitting process and when construction begins.

Amazon

Amazon completed a real estate deal with Hillsborough County in October to build a massive distribution center that will bring 1,000 permanent jobs as well as seasonal and construction work to Ruskin.

The announcement ended a long negotiation period that had the county and state dangling millions of dollars in tax breaks in hopes of revitalizing the struggling SouthShore economy. The retailer has not announced when the warehouse will open, but it could be before the 2014 holiday season.

Bloomingdale big box

A group of citizens calling itself CAN-DO (Coordinated Active Neighborhoods for Development Organization) filed a lawsuit against the Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners in November after protesting the development of a big-box retail outlet next to the Bloomingdale Regional Library since March.

Redstone Development submitted a site plan to Hillsborough County officials outlining an unnamed big-box store, five outparcels and 261 apartments on the property east of the library. Residents assert the project was reviewed improperly by commissioners and deprived them of their due process rights, according to the lawsuit.

The project moved closer to reality last week when county commissioners voted unanimously to accept the developer's $564,000 contribution to the costs of road improvements that could be necessitated by the project.

Education

Pepin Academies

In August, Pepin Academies opened a satellite campus in Riverview. The tuition-free public charter school had been serving students in kindergarten through age 22 that have learning disabilities or learning-related disabilities at its East Tampa campus.

But with 520 students and a growing waiting list, school officials decided it was time to expand. The Riverview campus opened to students in grades 3-7, with 125 students this year.

The school will add eighth grade next year, and plans to add high school through transition soon after. They also plan to move to a permanent location either next year or the year after. Local businesses and families have been welcoming to the new campus, said Crisha Scolaro, founder and community liaison.

School Board candidates

By Dec. 16, candidates had filed to run for three open seats on the Hillsborough County School Board. The pool of candidates for the November election includes several from east Hillsborough. Stacy White of East Hillsborough will leave the board next year, and run for Hillsborough County Commission. Set to run for his seat are Terry Kemple of Brandon, Jereme Monette of Valrico, Dee Prether of Valrico and Melissa Snively of Lithia.

April Griffin, who holds an at-large seat, had planned to run for County Commission but dropped out of the race. Still, three east Hillsborough residents are vying for the seat: John G. Evon of Apollo Beach, Dipa Shah of Valrico, and Randy Toler of Seffner. Also running are Alison McGillivray Fernandez of Temple Terrace, and Charles Brink, Asher D. Edelson, Stacy Hahn, Paula P. Meckley and Russ Patterson, all of Tampa.

A seat in South Tampa is also on the ballot.

Of the candidates from east Hillsborough, Snively has raised the most money, $42,750, followed by Shah with $35,507.

Human interest

Queena

In April, the public came to know the name and face of Queena, 23, for the first time. Until then, she was known as the Bloomingdale Library survivor. In 2008, when Queena was 18, she went to the Bloomingdale Library to return books, she was raped, beaten and left to die.

Her family launched the website JoinQueena.com in April, allowing the public to follow her progress and treatment, and make donations to help cover her medical expenses. The family has received more than 100 messages of prayers and well wishes and donations of about $17,000 through the website, Queena's sister Anna said.

The money has helped pay for neurological treatments, medicines, vitamins and therapies not covered by Medicaid, and they are trying to raise money for a new wheelchair van.

Sinkholes

A 20-foot-deep sinkhole opened under a Seffner home in February and killed Jeffrey Bush, whose body was swallowed into the pit. The rest of the family was evacuated and the home demolished.

Jeremy Bush, 36, said he hopes the property will one day include a bench or tombstone so his parents can visit the burial site. After the high-profile case, a string of other sinkholes opened in the area during the following months, including one that closed a Bob Evans in Seffner.

Human trafficking gains awareness

After a symposium at the Stetson University College of Law's Tampa Law Center in February, sponsored by the Junior League of Tampa, human trafficking arose as a prominent issue in the minds of many in Tampa Bay. Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners proposed an ordinance to establish guidelines limiting business hours of massage parlors and preventing workers from living there, and Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, sponsored a bill allowing judges to vacate certain criminal convictions if offenders can prove that they committed them under duress.

A documentary detailing the brutal reality of human trafficking in the Tampa Bay area sold out the Tampa Theatre in August, and a new advertising campaign titled "Abolish" is under way to raise awareness. The Junior League of Tampa and its partners will host events Jan. 10-18 to mark Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

Crime

Lovers Lane

In May, a jury acquitted 70-year-old ex-Marine Ralph Wald of second-degree murder for killing his wife's 32-year-old lover. Wald awoke to find his wife, Johnna Lynn Flores, 41, having sex with Walter Conley in the living room of his Brandon home.

He shot and killed Conley, who lived on Lovers Lane in Riverview, with a .38-caliber revolver from his bedroom, later testifying that he thought his wife was being raped. Flores said she had been drunk and her memory of the night was hazy. In June, Wald said he and Flores would try to move on with their lives and work on their marriage, while Walter Conley's father, Roger Conley, was shocked by the jury's verdict.

Seffner double homicide

Charles Anthony Foster, 24, is in jail awaiting a trial where he faces the death penalty on charges of murdering two of his friends with an ax and then leading one of their moms to the crime scene.

Karen Deas discovered her dead son and his roommate in their mobile home in Seffner in March. Deputies say Foster attacked the two men, likely with a hatchet or small-handled ax, leaving the roommates bleeding on the floor of their trailer at the Parsons Village mobile home park.

Brandon apartment fire

In October, the bodies of two women were found in the remains of a blaze at a Brandon townhome. They were later identified as Jennifer L. Kalb, 23, and Lindsay Nicole Greene, 25, who neighbors said lived in the Carlisle Club Townhomes with her young son.

The bodies were found after a neighbor complained of smelling smoke, and the fire was out when Hillsborough County Fire Rescue arrived.

Authorities identified Charles A. Martinez, 24, as a "person of interest" in the case. Martinez turned himself in at the Hillsborough County Courthouse in October. He was wanted on unrelated charges, and remains in jail on $50,000 bail. The Sheriff's Office did not announced any additional charges against him.

Government

Animal services

Hillsborough County Animal Services had a tumultuous year. After hiring director Ian Hallett 18 months ago, he was transferred in December to the Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department amid turmoil in animal services. Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill praised Hallett's work ethic and the progress he made on plans to see fewer animals killed.

But the department faced challenges this year including the departure of two veterinarians who complained of poor communication and direction, outbreaks of disease and the euthanization of dogs that were supposed to be up for adoption.

Commissioners voted 6-1 in December to approve an ordinance to encourage private groups to participate in a program to trap, neuter and release feral cats that roam the county. It is part of the county's larger "Be the Way Home" program, approved earlier this year to reduced the number of animals killed at the shelter.

Automated trash system

Hillsborough County wrapped up a five-year project in October to convert the county to automated trash pickup. A county hotline for garbage complaints averaged 1,400 calls a day during the first week of the transition, mostly from people with questions about the new service such as clarifying their pickup day. Complaints died down shortly after.

Each house was issued a standardized 95-gallon container. People looking to downsize to a 65-gallon or 35-gallon container can do so between Jan. 15 and March 15 by contacting the county or their franchise. Residents in Sun City Center will receive their containers during the week of Jan. 6. Automated pickup begins there on Jan. 15.

SouthShore & Brandon Times: Year In Review 12/24/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 24, 2013 7:10pm]
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