TAMPA — A proposed "big box" commercial development that has piqued the ire of some of its Bloomingdale neighbors moved closer to reality Wednesday.
Hillsborough County commissioners voted unanimously to accept developer Red Cast Bloomingdale's contribution to the costs of road improvement work that could be necessitated by the project. But commissioners postponed a decision on how to spend the $564,196 contribution so the county can run a staff proposal by residents of the area.
"We'll provide the community with a voice in this process," said Commissioner Al Higginbotham, who has been the target of residents who say they were not given a voice in changes to land-development rules affecting the property, enabling the big-box development.
With the road work contribution, Red Cast is largely waiting for approval of its overall development plan, which is before county staff.
It also faces a lawsuit from residents, who say the county process that led to the development proposal coming forward as it is largely shut them out from having a meaningful say.
Residents fear the project will include a Walmart or similar large store with a sea of asphalt parking.
Zoning restrictions on the property since the early 2000s envisioned it being developed in a neo-traditional style, with a focus on easy pedestrian and bike access and limits on some of what could get built there. Neighbors say changes that were made in 2011 with little notice or opportunity for public input effectively cleared the way for a standard suburban commercial center that will further clog roads and reduce pedestrian safety.
They assert in their suit that the 2011 changes were effectively a rezoning that should have allowed for more meaningful public input and, as a result, they were denied due process.
Attempts to reach the residents' attorney, Pamela Jo Hatley, late Wednesday were unsuccessful and no residents appeared to be on hand for Wednesday's vote.
County engineers had proposed that the developer's roadway contribution be put toward adding turn lanes at the intersection of Lithia Pinecrest and Lumsden roads, though it won't cover all the costs. Higginbotham asked county engineer Mike Williams whether the intersection work, some distance from the development site on Bloomingdale Avenue, would help alleviate traffic.
"This project will definitely help the area," Williams said.
This summer, commissioners approved spending $5.5 million to expedite other intersection work near the development. Red Cast also will be required to add a lighted intersection at its main entrance on Bloomingdale.
In other action Wednesday:
Commissioners agreed to create three new enterprise zones totaling 12.5 square miles, under a state program aimed at encouraging business investment in areas with low family incomes and high unemployment.
The areas are north and east of the University of South Florida, near where there is already an enterprise zone, as well as in eastern Hillsborough, covering parts of Palm River and Gibsonston. The program provides state tax rebates and credits for businesses that build or expand in those areas and hire people who live in them.
Bill Varian can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3387.