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Veteran housing plan stirs debate

OLDSMAR — Todd Adams says he wants to create a community for wounded veterans.

But many of his neighbors don't like much about the project that he's proposed for their east Oldsmar neighborhood.

About 20 of them showed up at Tuesday night's City Council meeting. They told city leaders they were worried that the plan would decrease property values, cause flooding, displace wildlife and increase traffic.

At least one neighbor questioned whether Adams' concept of a community for wounded vets was just a marketing ploy.

Neighbor Claude Booska said everything he has read about the project says it's for war heroes, but he wasn't hearing any confirmation that the homes would be built just for them.

"The developer is playing that card, and I think that's wrong," he said. "If it's not for wounded veterans, don't say it is."

Adams, who didn't attend the meeting, insisted that he was earnest about creating a haven for disabled veterans. He said he skipped the council meeting because a couple of City Council members urged him not to attend after he told someone off at a planning board meeting.

Adams, 47, said he got the idea for the Heroes Hope project in October at a Toby Keith concert. The country singer brought Iraq War veteran Sgt. Josh Cooley onstage before singing his patriotic hit American Soldier. Adams said he was touched by the story of Cooley, who suffered a brain injury from a roadside bomb.

So far, Adams has spent about $165,000 to buy the land south of Lafayette Boulevard and east of State Street. He plans to spend a total of $250,000 once he acquires additional parcels. He said he wants to give the land away and just recoup costs for other project elements, including the extension of State Street and water and sewer lines.

But he admits that he can't restrict the homes to just vets: "My attorney said you're going to get sued if you keep stamping this thing as disabled vets only."

City leaders said they were just considering the plan Tuesday, not its marketing.

In 2006, the city approved a development agreement with Adams for 15 homes on the 12.7 acre property. But that agreement expired last month. Now Adams wants to build 30 single-family homes there instead.

Several neighbors were especially concerned about the plan to build twice as many homes as before. "It affects my property values. It affects the city of Oldsmar," said Robert Kerns. "I don't want to see the city of Oldsmar going downhill."

And neighbor Heidi Gray said the plan isn't consistent with the larger lots around there.

Marie Dauphinais, the city's planning and redevelopment director, said the current zoning already allows Adams to build 30 homes there. But Adams wants to rezone the property from "estate residential" to a classification called "planned unit development" so he has more flexibility in designing the community.

Despite opposition from residents, four council members in attendance unanimously approved a development agreement and voted to rezone the property. A final vote on the rezoning is scheduled for June 5.

Adams also plans to extend State Street to Wellington Avenue and complete construction of a sewer line in the area. In return, the city is offering credits for transportation and wastewater impact fees.

Neighbors were also worried about plans to extend the street. "Only thing this will do is bring in more traffic in our neighborhood," Kerns said.

But Vice Mayor Jerry Beverland said there's been talk of extending State Street for 30 years. City Manager Bruce Haddock said it would improve access for emergency vehicles and improve traffic circulation.

Adams, who has a concrete business and an air conditioning business, is familiar around City Hall. In 2002, he sold five downtown lots near the Oldsmar Civic Club to the city for $190,000, and he donated concrete work to help build a city park. In 2003, he purchased a former Tampa Electric Company building the city had acquired for $500,000. Later, he sold the building for $700,000, a markup that maddened council member Janice Miller, who did not attend Tuesday's meeting.

Adams said he often buys and sells real estate, but he's not a home builder. He planned to invite national builders to take part in the project.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4155. Go to tampabay.com/letters to write a letter to the editor.

Veteran housing plan stirs debate 05/16/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 16, 2012 8:49pm]
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