TAMPA — Supporters and opponents argued over plans for a proposed minor league soccer stadium for the new Tampa Bay Rowdies until nearly midnight Monday.
The advocates mainly had some connection to the sport of soccer, if only as fans, and didn't live particularly close by. The detractors mostly hailed from the Twelve Oaks neighborhood, about a mile west of the stadium and on the other side of the Veterans Expressway.
During a three-hour zoning hearing, supporters touted the stadium's location at the expressway and Waters Avenue in the Town 'N Country area of northwest Hillsborough. The immediate area is zoned for industrial uses, they said, the project would boost a family-friendly sport, and major roads would provide ready access for soccer fans from as far away as Hernando, Polk and Manatee counties.
"We believe the Veterans Expressway is a very good buffer between us … and the residential area to the west," said Kevin Mineer, a planning consultant for the team.
To mitigate the stadium's impact on the surrounding area, the Rowdies have offered to:
• Try to funnel stadium traffic onto Waters and the expressway and away from Benjamin Road, which leads to Barry Road, which leads to Twelve Oaks.
• Shut off lights within 90 minutes of a game's end, hire a lighting expert to focus the light onto the field and not outside the stadium and limit the height of the light poles to 100 feet. (County rules would allow 110 feet).
• Not allow any amplified music after 11 p.m. at any non-sporting event held at the stadium.
Twelve Oaks residents countered that the stadium would produce excessive noise, traffic and other problems. Bolstered by an analysis from their own traffic engineer, they also questioned whether the stadium's reliance on using parking spaces at nearby businesses could create unsafe traffic conditions that they would have to contend with.
"It's going to create some severe congestion, in my opinion, that hasn't been addressed," said Michael Raysor, the traffic engineer hired by Twelve Oaks.
The meeting produced no decision, but zoning hearing master Steve Luce will consider both sides' evidence in coming up with a recommendation for the Hillsborough County Commission, which is scheduled to consider the project on Dec. 9.
Executives for the Rowdies propose to build and finance the 5,000-seat stadium privately, leaving room to add nearly 5,000 more seats later. The project also would include about 20,000 square feet of retail space.
The newest incarnation of the Rowdies plan to begin playing in April 2010 as part of the United Soccer Leagues, which fields teams throughout the United States. The team would be expected to play about 15 home games a year, more if it made the playoffs.
But Twelve Oaks residents worry about what else the stadium might host, especially concerts.
Resident Bret Hart said a concert could attract a lot more than 5,000 fans because promoters could put at least 4,000 additional seats on the field itself. And despite the Rowdies' promise to turn off the music at 11 p.m., Hart said neighbors immediately to the south would have to contend with a three-hour process to break down and pack up the stage.
Citing the experience of the St. Pete Times Forum, where there are a lot more concerts and other events than hockey games, Hart predicted that the stadium wouldn't just be used for soccer.
"The only way to make a stadium viable is to have other events," said Hart, who works as senior vice president of live events for World Wrestling Entertainment. "It's a proven fact."
But Rowdies president Andrew Nestor said the team was trying to make the stadium a viable project for the entire community.
"They seem to be making assumptions as to the type of events that we want to have," Nestor said, adding that the team aims to bring elite youth soccer games to the stadium. "We've worked with (Twelve Oaks residents) to make a lot of changes" after a meeting with the neighborhood last week.
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In a similar but unrelated case Monday night, Lutz residents debated a developer's plans to reduce noise and glare from what could be a 24-hour big-box store.
Colonial Properties Trust already has the zoning to build a big-box store on the north side of Bearss Avenue, between Nebraska Avenue and 12th Street N. But the approval, which the county gave in 2003, restricted the hours the store could operate.
Now the developer says it can't market the property with that restriction, so it wants its tenant to be able to be open around the clock. Developers have spoken with several retailers, said Ken Marshall of Colonial Properties, but he declined to identify any of the prospective tenants.
The developer has proposed to put up a buffer wall between its property and neighbors, locate a retention pond and a landscaped buffer close to the neighborhood, restrict the hours for truck-loading and unloading, and put parking lot lights on poles just 18 feet tall — about half the normal height. They also have reduced the overall size of the development and deleted plans to build apartments on the property, a former citrus grove and fruit-packing house.
Lutz residents were split in their reactions.
Barbara Fite, who turned in 105 letters of opposition from her neighbors, said residents worked hard to get protections from the county four years ago.
"Now they've come in and they want to throw out everything that we've worked for," she said.
Retired firefighter John Salgado welcomed the project.
"I think anything's going to be an improvement" over what is on the property, he said. "The place is an eyesore now."