TAMPA — Neighbors of a proposed big-box development next to the Bloomingdale Public Library have filed their long-awaited lawsuit seeking to overturn its approval by Hillsborough County commissioners.
The lawsuit asserts the development project was reviewed improperly by commissioners, in a manner that denied them proper notice and prevented them from having meaningful input about it. As such, it deprived them of their due process rights, the suit says.
An attorney for those residents says the result was a significant change to how the property could be developed that will yield yet one more standard suburban strip mall anchored by a Walmart or similar big-box retailer. Previously, it was zoned in such a way that would have led to something a bit more distinctive, a commercial and residential center that would cater to people on foot or bike, not just those in cars.
The lawsuit, filed in Circuit Court, says changes to the county's land-development code in 2011 that affected this property alone in Hillsborough County amounted to a zoning change. Had it been treated that way, residents say they would have gotten proper notice and had a better chance to speak out.
"It should have been adopted as a rezoning," said Pamela Jo Hatley, an attorney for neighbors of the project near Bloomingdale Avenue and Lithia Pinecrest Road. "It was a rezoning dressed up as a land-development code amendment."
The suit names Hillsborough County and developer Red Cast Bloomingdale LLC as defendants.
County Attorney Chip Fletcher said he couldn't comment about the detailed allegations.
"We will defend the county vigorously and will proceed to file responsive pleadings," he said.
David Singer, an attorney for the developer, said he had not received the lawsuit, asking for a copy from a reporter before commenting. After receiving a copy, he did not return a phone call.
The Bloomingdale big box, as it has been dubbed by residents, has been the source of months of controversy. Residents say it will add traffic to congested roads and they strenuously object to the approval process.
Previous owners won county permission in 2003 to rezone the property to a relatively new land-use category, one that called for a "traditional neighborhood design." The goal of the designation was to create a commercial and residential hub similar in appearance to the Winthrop Town Centre a few miles to the west on Bloomingdale with its distinctive architectural styles and local roads and sidewalks linked to nearby homes.
Red Cast sought a rezoning in 2010, but withdrew it when residents loudly protested the potential was there for more intense use.
The company floated a new plan a year later, this time as a change to broader growth rules in the county known as the land-development code. But the change applied to this 43-acre parcel alone, not any other property in the county. It changed the way roads and buildings on the property could be configured.
It was not considered a rezoning by the county. If it had been, that would have required the county to place signs about the proposed changes near the property and notify nearby residents and neighborhood groups. As it was, few people showed up to the hearings that followed.
Developers won preliminary approval to move forward with site planning, but have not named prospective tenants. As of now, they're entitled to build a big-box and other stores, as well as 161 apartments.