KEYSTONE — For years, ground zero in the battle for the soul of Keystone has been Steve Dibbs' land just west of the Suncoast Parkway.
That hasn't changed.
In the past week, Dibbs has been dealt two setbacks over separate proposals affecting his 320 acres.
First, a Hillsborough County hearing officer ruled that Dibbs cannot put more dump trucks on Lutz-Lake Fern Road.
Then Hillsborough County's City-County Planning Commission came out against his request to intensify development on one corner of the property.
In both cases, Dibbs' representatives said the proposed changes made sense and would provide public benefits.
But residents said they would destroy Keystone's rural character.
"If he can't play by our rules, he needs to move on," said Karen Rafferty, who lives on Old Country Road.
And if he doesn't do that, one planning commissioner suggested, he should rethink his relationship to the community.
"That site can be developed," Commissioner Edward Giunta II told Dibbs' representatives. "You're taking the hard road. There's an easier path. It's working with the community."
Dibbs himself wasn't at the meeting, but he said he spoke to Giunta afterward. He said he has tried to work with residents, contends opposition to his proposals comes from the same small group of people and doesn't feel the community plan reflects the wishes of residents who want wider roads and more affordable lots.
"I don't believe that the majority of the people of Keystone-Odessa believe in this plan," he said.
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Last February, after two years of controversy, Dibbs received county permission to excavate up to 2.5-million cubic yards of dirt from his land north of Lutz-Lake Fern Road.
But that approval came with 38 conditions to protect Keystone and its roads.
So for now, trucks from the site can supply dirt to only three projects: the new interchange onto the parkway, the construction of Steinbrenner High School and the future widening of Lutz-Lake Fern Road east to N Dale Mabry Highway.
That will change when the new interchange opens in August.
Then trucks from Dibbs' land will be able to get onto the parkway and haul dirt to any project in the county.
Dibbs wanted trucks from his site to be able to go west on Lutz-Lake Fern Road to Gunn Highway. He also wanted the county to remove the limits on which projects he can provide with dirt.
Those changes, his spokesmen said, would have cut fuel costs for the widening of Race Track Road. Without dirt from his land, they said, fill would have to be hauled from a borrow pit in Pasco County.
But land use hearing officer Steven Luce concluded Lutz-Lake Fern Road is not built to handle heavy trucks. Additionally, he said Dibbs' proposal would put more dump trucks on roads the county has not approved as truck through-routes.
That "would adversely impact the rural residential community through which the truck traffic would travel," Luce said in a five-page decision released Jan. 9.
Dibbs said this week he didn't know whether he would appeal the decision.
The request, said Dibbs' representative, Steve Allison, sought to address conditions that made no sense.
For example, he said, if a property west of Dibbs' land were to be developed, the current conditions wouldn't allow Dibbs to supply dirt for the project without making a long detour to get there.
"There's no public benefit in that," he said.
But an opponent said Dibbs' request was "a slap in the face to the community."
"The denial was very, very appropriate," said Tom Aderhold, president of the Keystone Civic Association. "It is what we all wanted."
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The second issue came to a head during a four-hour hearing Monday night at the Planning Commission.
Dibbs wants the county to change the land use designation on 36.5 of his 320 acres and to remove that land from the area governed by the Keystone-Odessa Community Plan — a citizen-designed blueprint for the area's future.
Currently, the county comprehensive land use plan would allow seven homes or 40,000 square feet of commercial buildings on the 36.5 acres.
The proposal would allow 219 homes or 175,000 square feet of commercial development. The new development would be near the parkway interchange and would be buffered from Keystone by a strip of wetlands, Allison said.
"This doesn't change the fundamental tenets of the Keystone plan," he said. "This is very much at the edge."
But more than a dozen Keystone residents said it would be out of place.
"If I were an alligator farmer, I wouldn't fit so good in Manhattan," resident Nancy Tracy said.
They were joined by activists from eastern Hillsborough who urged officials to respect citizen-authored plans.
Most planning commissioners agreed, voting to recommend that the County Commission deny both requests.
"When we approve a community plan, the community trusts us to stay with that approval," planning Commissioner Terri Cobb said.
Dibbs said he thinks he will eventually prevail in his plans for the land. The County Commission has the final say. It is scheduled to consider both requests at a workshop at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 28 and in the first of two public hearings at 6 p.m. March 19.
Richard Danielson can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 269-5311.