Spring Hill residents say the Elgin Boulevard widening will disrupt their neighborhood

SPRING HILL — What Sal and Kathy Calabrese viewed from their back yard last week — the back of a weather-stained, abandoned home, a span of blowing sand from a newly cleared lot and the blur of traffic zipping by on Elgin Boulevard — isn't ideal.

But what they expect to see in the coming months, they say, is unacceptable.

Houses on 33 lots behind them and their neighbors are slated to be moved or demolished in the coming weeks. All of the trees will be removed. Then work will begin to widen Elgin Boulevard from two to four lanes, backing up the roadway much closer to their back doors. That, they say, will affect their quality of life, bringing safety hazards, noise, trash, drainage problems and the end of privacy as they know it.

"We can't even leave our curtains open,'' Mrs. Calabrese told county commissioners earlier this month. "With this, there's no protection, no privacy. I just don't think that's right.''

The Calabreses and other residents along Corrine Avenue just east of Mariner Boulevard urged commissioners to come to their homes and see firsthand the impact of the project. They asked for a solution and reminded county officials of a promise made to them in the early planning stages of the road improvement project three years ago.

They want a wall to separate them from the busy road and new drainage ditch that will run through what used to be the homes and property of their backyard neighbors, a wall they say was promised them by former public works director Charles Mixson.

The wall is not part of the current plan, and the promise of it was never put in writing. Mixson and another county employee who residents say heard the promise are gone, and a third doesn't remember the conversation, which, according to the residents, took place in the atrium of the government center after commissioners discussed the Elgin Boulevard project.

Former county Commissioner Diane Rowden does remember the promise because she was part of the conversation. She said she talked to the neighbors about the problems the road widening would create. "It just wasn't right,'' Rowden said last week.

Mrs. Calabrese said the plan as it stands now doesn't protect the remaining homeowners.

"Now we're getting nothing,'' Mrs. Calabrese told commissioners two weeks ago.

Connie Smith, a next-door neighbor to the Calabreses, told commissioners that she understood that things change and progress happens, but "I don't believe anybody's thought about the homeowners located in the area.''

Now, instead of being an entire lot and home away, the cars waiting for red lights at Mariner Boulevard will be sitting adjacent to the back yards of everyone along the strip, generating noise and exhaust fumes.

"We cannot use our back yards,'' Smith said. "I feel like we're on a stage.''

She also voiced concern about the depreciation of homes in the area because of the road improvements.

Her daughter, Debra Smith, said their home is also low and that, with the drainage ditch planned between their home and the roadway, she fears even more water intrusion into the home.

"I'm worried that when those ponds fill up, I'm going to get the overflow,'' she said.

On the site last week, neighbors passed around photos of the recent heavy rains and how the flow inundated the back of the Smiths' home.

Mrs. Calabrese pointed out how trash was already blowing into yards and that she expected the problem would only be compounded with the improved road. She pointed out a lot where a home already has been demolished and noted that, even with just one home gone, the noise level from traffic has gone up considerably and the road isn't even closer to her back door yet.

Then she walked to the home set for demolition directly behind her house and pointed to a spot midway along the side wall. That, she said, would be the edge of the new Elgin — 64 feet from her property. Between that point and her property line, the county will fit a sidewalk and a 36-foot-wide drainage basin.

Her husband, a longtime teacher at Westside Elementary School, stood in his back yard with his neighbors and watched the traffic drive past.

"The wider the road, the faster they're going to go,'' he said, noting that it wouldn't take a very strenuous computer search to find out how many out-of-control cars smash into buildings in Florida every year.

Then Sal Calabrese, arms outstretched, said that all he wants is the promised wall from the corner of his lot to the corner of the Smiths' lot to protect the two properties.

"That's all I want,'' he said.

Everyone else can fight their own battle, he said.

"I've been here 28 years. I've paid my taxes for 28 years. I've never been late. I've taught and coached over a thousand kids, and this is what I get,'' Calabrese said.

He also finds fault with a part of the plan that would close his access to Elgin at Gwen Lane and force him onto a roundabout, backtracking in order to get off his street and off to work every day.

He wants every county commissioner to come and see what the project will do to his property and that of his neighbors.

"I need each one of them coming out here and facing me,'' Calabrese said.

So far, commissioners Rose Rocco and Jeff Stabins have made separate appointments to visit the properties this week; other commissioners had not responded to e-mails.

Interim public works director Susan Goebel will accompany Rocco for her visit and said she hopes that will give her a better idea of how to help the residents with their concerns.

In the meantime, "there are a couple of possibilities we're considering (to buffer the neighbors). We're doing cost estimates,'' Goebel said.

Walls, fences and landscaping are among the ways to create separation between the road and the homes, and all have pros and cons and associated costs, and those are being analyzed. Goebel said the issue will come back to the County Commission.

The neighbors' concerns are just the latest challenge for the Elgin project. County residents have questioned the timing of and the need for the widening. Because the project was approved during the housing boom, when home values were high, the county paid top dollar for the homes and lots needed to widen the road.

The 33 lots and homes purchased have cost the county approximately $6 million. Part of that came from a state grant. The $5-million construction cost will come from county impact fees.

Work on the first phase of the road project is expected to begin in the next few months.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Spring Hill residents say the Elgin Boulevard widening will disrupt their neighborhood 03/20/10 [Last modified: Saturday, March 20, 2010 3:07pm]

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