SAN ANTONIO — All the folks at the Tampa Bay Golf and Country Club want is a wall.
They want a wall to buffer the noise from Interstate 75 that's filled with cars. And motorcycles. And 18-wheelers with air brakes.
"Vegetation has very little or absolutely no effect on noise," said resident Richard Bond. "The future values of our homes are going to go down if the road noise gets louder and louder."
At a meeting Monday afternoon with politicians and state transportation officials, Bond accused them of "putting window dressing" on noise concerns related to a future expansion of the highway.
Of course, that "window dressing" is no small matter. The vice president of the subdivision's master association called it a "miracle."
After residents complained three weeks ago about the noise to a county commissioner and state senator, the state Department of Transportation agreed to realign a segment of I-75 when it is widened from four lanes to six from Wesley Chapel Boulevard to just north of State Road 52.
The project originally would have added a third lane to the southbound lanes on the west side of the highway — the side closest to Tampa Bay Golf and Country Club. After the complaints, officials agreed to build the new lane in the median for the 2-mile length of the 55-and-up gated community.
That change also means a continuous pine tree buffer won't be removed.
"It would've been so much closer to us, and no trees," said Ray Proch, the vice president of the Tampa Bay Community Association. "We're much better off than prior to them making the move."
The project is ready to go but not funded, and thus has no expected construction date.
Still, many of the roughly 350 residents who showed up Monday wanted a wall, which is expected to cost $4.5 million.
"One person said, 'If we give you a sound barrier, we have to give everyone a sound barrier,'" said Kris Wedington, whose home is a stone's throw from the interstate, on the eastern edge of the subdivision. "I was almost willing to buy that until I saw the sound barrier by Bruce B. Downs."
She was referring to the Enclave subdivision in New Tampa. Debbie Hunt, a planner for the DOT's Tampa Bay district, explained that community was already built in 2000 when the department did a noise study related to the interstate expansion.
At the time, Tampa Bay Golf and Country Club had only nine homes that measured above a certain noise level. That wasn't enough to merit a wall.
One resident remarked, "Twelve years in Florida real estate is a long time." There are likely hundreds of homes that would reach that noise threshold today.
Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, whose district includes the subdivision, said he worked his "tail off" with state transportation officials to realign the highway.
He said he faced a similar issue with the Cheval subdivision in northern Hillsborough that is bisected by the Veterans Expressway. A county commissioner at the time, he persuaded the county to put up $1 million if the state would pay for the rest.
The state said no. If they built that wall, officials could not justify denying walls for other communities.
Cheval never got its wall.
Norman's advice: Start a petition drive to Gov. Rick Scott's office. "That's how you get your wall," he said.
Sharon Armstrong, who works the information desk at the community's clubhouse, said she built a home on Collar Drive, on the eastern edge of the subdivision. They put all the bells and whistles in it.
"But the traffic just got to us," she said, adding that she and her husband bought a different home further away from the highway. She still can't sleep at night with her windows open.
"I don't think there's any place in the community where you cannot hear the noise," she said. "It's sad because it's a beautiful community, and it's kind of going to waste."
Lee Logan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.