WIMAUMA — In the first blow against a proposed 1,088-home development in Wimauma, a rezoning request that would pave the way for the Reserve at Westlake has been denied.
The proposed development does not comply with the county's comprehensive plan, according to a land use hearing officer. Several problems cannot be fixed even with changes required by the developer, the officer found.
County planners approved the rezoning in November. They cited several problems but said they could be fixed, such as restricting the development to 350 units until access to County Road 572 is built.
County commissioners will make the final decision at a Jan. 13 hearing.
The project has met strong opposition from residents and environmentalists, who are worried about sprawl in a rural area and the effect on wildlife in the county's Balm Scrub Preserve to the east and north of the 537-acre property.
The land, off West Lake Drive, south of Palm Road and east of U.S. 301, is now used as a sod farm by Turfgrass America.
The housing density proposed by Turfgrass America is near the maximum allowed by the county, and hearing officer Laura Belflower suggested a decrease as it's a rural area next to preserve land.
Mariella Smith, an opponent who spoke at the November hearing, said it's gratifying to have a zoning official agree.
"This is a bad idea, and it would be bad planning," she said.
She's working to gather opponents for the January meeting in hopes that their numbers will sway county commissioners.
Meanwhile, Turfgrass America officials are considering their options: Withdrawing their application, going forward with the County Commission meeting or asking commissioners to allow them to have a second hearing with a zoning official, the company's vice president Ron Mahan said.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443.