NORTHDALE — Developer Stephen Dibbs has approval for a 49-home subdivision on Wilcox Road, but the housing market is bogged down.
So now Dibbs wants to use his 21-acre property on Lake LeClare as a golf driving range until the demand for residential development improves.
Hillsborough County's planning and growth management officials say the range would be compatible with the surrounding area. A county land use hearing officer has recommended that the County Commission approve the driving range.
But nearby neighborhood groups protest that the range would essentially bring the traffic, exhaust fumes and noise of a commercial use to a residential area. And they worry that stray shots would sail off the range and hit cars on Wilcox Road.
"We feel that there will be enough activity there that it will cause some problems to the property owners surrounding it," Northdale Civic Association president Ann Frisbie said. "I know I'm going to avoid traffic on Wilcox Road once those golf balls start flying."
Along with the Northdale Civic Association, neighborhood groups in Keystone and Orange Blossom Creek also have come out against the project.
A representative for Dibbs said the driving range would not affect its neighbors any more than a public park would.
"Impactwise, I challenge someone to tell me how this is different from having neighborhood play fields or a golf course or ballfields or anything else that you would normally find in a public park," planning consultant Steven Allison said. "It's the same intensity of use. That kind of thing is expected to occur in residential areas."
County land use hearing master James Scarola has agreed, recommending that the project be approved when county commissioners consider it Tuesday. After a public hearing in April, Scarola issued a 10-page report saying the driving range would produce less traffic than the already approved subdivision.
He also found that there was no evidence to suggest that noise would be a nuisance during the range's permitted hours of operation or that property values would go down as a result of the project.
The project includes baseball batting cages, putting greens and a nine-hole golf course, but it has been scaled back since first being introduced. The original proposal included outdoor storage of maintenance equipment, as well as concessions for food, beverages, bumper cars and paddle boats — features that prompted some critics to dub the project an amusement park and "Wally World."
"We feel we've done some good in getting it scaled down," Frisbie said.
The county staff's support for the driving range is conditioned on Dibbs' agreement to limit its hours from dawn to dusk, with no lights.
Also removed at the county's request is a plan for netting 40 feet high to catch errant golf balls.
The netting, county staff said, would have been out of character with surrounding areas. But without the nets, residents ask what will keep balls from bouncing into traffic.
Distance, Allison said. The netting was included when the range was planned to be 250 yards long, he said, and it was planned to be at the far end of the range. Now the nets are gone, but the tees have been moved back to create a range that's 300 yards long. The sides of the range always have the space buffer that the county requires to keep slices from flying off the property.
"It's going to have to be a real errant shot to get out of there," Allison said.
Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.