CARROLLWOOD — When the Carrollwood Cultural Center hosted a neighborhood meeting about speed humps in January, so many impassioned residents showed up that management called the cops.
"We were overflowing beyond safety limits for the fire code," recalls cultural center executive director Paul Berg. "We didn't have any idea it was going to be that large."
Six months later, Hillsborough County's traffic calming project isn't finished, emotions still run high and another community meeting is coming up.
This time, however, organizers have booked a bigger room.
Hillsborough County has reserved the center's main theater for what officials say should be a final community airing of opinions on the controversial plan to slow down traffic in Carrollwood Village with speed humps, raised pavement and road markings.
Instead of 40 people, which was the capacity of the room for the January meeting, the theater holds 220. For two hours Thursday evening, an outside arbitrator will hear residents' thoughts about the county's unfinished project.
"I'm really hoping we have a big crowd," said Jennifer Fritch, a leading opponent of the county's project. "I don't know what to expect. I'm still hearing a lot of feedback."
County officials had looked into holding the meeting at a school, as suggested by Commissioner Jim Norman, but schools weren't available for a night meeting during the summer, county public works spokesman Steve Valdez said.
More than 100 signs around Carrollwood advertise the meeting. The county has hired Wilson Lorenz, a traffic and transportation engineer with experience in arbitration, to run it.
"He is not there to get into a dialogue with anyone," Valdez said. "But he is going to be listening to what everyone has to say. How long everyone has to speak will depend on the size of the crowd."
Lorenz's conclusions are due to the County Commission by September.
In February, commissioners put on hold a $2.3 million traffic calming project for Original Carrollwood and Carrollwood Village after complaints from both areas.
By early May, county officials had been ready to recommend making the slopes leading up to raised speed tables more gradual in Carrollwood Village. They also were thinking of removing 41 of 91 warning signs but leaving most of the raised pavement in Carrollwood Village in place.
But commissioners delayed a vote after their staff met with three neighborhood representatives from Carrollwood Village. County officials thought they had reached a compromise, only to have one of the neighborhood representatives balk soon after.
That's when officials decided to bring in an arbitrator. It was, one said, the only way to reach closure.
The county is taking a different approach in Original Carrollwood. There, commissioners decided in May, most speed humps already installed will stay in place. But they did scale back the number of humps or raised intersections left to be installed.
Lorenz is not expected to revisit the idea of holding a vote on traffic calming in Carrollwood Village. That has been a hot-button issue for years. Originally, residents of Carrollwood Village Sub Area 1, which includes the area where S Village Drive, Lowell Road and Casey Road come together, successfully circulated a traffic calming petition.
But in early 2005 the County Commission bundled their efforts into a larger traffic calming plan encompassing all of Carrollwood Village and Original Carrollwood.
For some, the lack of an opportunity to vote on a plan for all of Carrollwood Village has been a sore spot ever since.
But Valdez said Lorenz won't be there to reopen the procedures that led to the project. Rather, he will hear residents' opinions about various elements of the plan.
Traffic calming proposals tend to be some of the most polarizing issues the county deals with, Valdez said.
Consequently, he said organizers are encouraging residents who turn out for the meeting to speak about the plan and not about each other.
Officials hope participants can be respectful, "look at what's best for the community, and try to reach a compromise," Valdez said.
"Not everybody is going to get what they want."
Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5311.