CARROLLWOOD — The idea of slowing down drivers with speed humps, narrower lanes and other "traffic-calming" measures has long been a hot-button issue in Carrollwood.
But these days the question is not "when is it coming?"
Instead, many are asking, "Can we get rid of it?"
Hillsborough County has almost finished a $2.3 million project that includes installing traffic-calming features throughout Carrollwood Village.
There, scores of homeowners complain that the modifications slow down emergency vehicles, clutter their community and make their neighborhood less safe, not more.
"I love where I live, but I hate getting to my house," said Jennifer Fritch, a retired pharmacy owner who has lobbied against the traffic-calming project since November.
The work includes speed humps, new pavement markings, textured road surfaces, signs and painted bike lanes to make roads look narrower.
To critics, it all makes the community appear to have a bigger speeding problem than it does. They say it creates the same bad impression as a bunch of houses with burglar bars.
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On Saturday, about 90 Carrollwood residents packed a town hall meeting at the Jimmie B. Keel Regional Library.
County Commissioner Kevin Beckner had invited anyone from northern Hillsborough to come out, ask questions and share their concerns regarding issues in the area. But the crowd focused overwhelmingly on traffic-calming in Carrollwood.
"Know that this has not fallen on deaf ears," he told residents, though he made no specific promises. "I will see what I can do. I can see that this is a huge, huge issue for this community."
Homeowners associations in Carrollwood Village have complained about cut-through traffic since at least 1996.
But the County Commission seized on the idea of taking a "global" approach to the problem in early 2005. That's when commissioners considered a rezoning request to build a Lowe's home improvement store on the site of the old Mission Bell Plaza, on the east side of N Dale Mabry, just north of the U.S. Post Office.
At that meeting, residents of Original Carrollwood, which is on the east side of Dale Mabry, raised concerns about proposed project-related improvements to Stall Road and Orange Grove Drive.
In response, commissioners came up with a multipart plan:
• Get the developer to contribute the $867,000 planned for unpopular road improvements to traffic-calming projects instead.
• Study the area's traffic-calming needs.
• And study Original Carrollwood and Carrollwood Village together, involving neighborhood groups from both areas.
That's where critics say the process went awry and different communities got treated differently.
In Original Carrollwood, the county held four public meetings and mailed out nearly 2,000 ballots so residents could vote on the proposed improvements before commissioners considered the plan.
The county mailed out the ballots because Original Carrollwood residents never came to enough of a consensus to circulate a petition, the typical way to ask for traffic-calming measures, said county public works spokesman Steve Valdez.
In contrast, residents of Carrollwood Village Sub Area 1, which includes the area were S Village Drive, Lowell Road and Casey Road come together, had successfully circulated a traffic-calming petition. But that effort got swept into the larger plan for all of Carrollwood after county commissioners launched the global study to address the potential traffic problems generated by the new Lowe's.
During the study, the county put out a total of 108 signs advertising the meetings for both Carrollwood Village and Original Carrollwood.
"That's by far the largest number we have ever put up for a public meeting," Valdez said.
The three public meetings for Carrollwood Village drew a total of 308 people. The record of spoken and written comments from those meetings suggests that many residents acknowledged the area had a speeding problem but were divided on how to address it.
But unlike in Original Carrollwood, which also is getting traffic-calming improvements, there was no vote.
Critics in Carrollwood Village now say there should have been.
"That's just not the right process," Fritch said. "That's why we're so upset."
Complaints may be too little, too late
With the project about 95 percent complete, residents' complaints may have come too late.
County rules call for traffic-calming measures to be in place at least three years before anyone can ask that they be removed.
But Carrollwood Village residents say they don't see why they should have to wait three years in light of what they contend are procedural flaws that led to installation of the devices in the first place.
"We're not letting it drop," Fritch said. "It's not going away."
In any case, Valdez said no one commissioner could stop the project at this point.
"This was a Board of County Commissioners vote that told us go and do this. Staff cannot deviate from that at all on the say of one commissioner," he said. "The only thing that would be able to stop it, change it, redirect it would be another vote by the board."
Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5311.