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Hillsborough County Commission kills connector road near Lutz

TAMPA — Fifty residents of the Heritage Harbor neighborhood assembled before the Hillsborough County Commission on Tuesday, their red shirts signaling one succinct message: stop.

On the table was a proposed road between Heritage Harbor Parkway and Sunlake Boulevard that would funnel traffic through the 670-home development near Lutz.

County transportation planners wanted it approved to improve future traffic flow. Residents wanted it blocked.

They pleaded for their children's safety. They pleaded for golfers' tranquility. They even pleaded for wildlife that might meet its demise beneath the onslaught of wheels.

After 15 minutes of testimony, commissioners voted unanimously to kill the construction.

Applause filled the room.

"I'm thrilled to death," said David Penzer, the neighborhood's development district chairman. "This takes a big weight off all of our backs. It would have ruined our community as we know it."

The decision went against county growth plans and staff recommendations.

To have been built in an area east of the Suncoast Parkway and west of Dale Mabry Highway, the road would have hooked Heritage Harbor Parkway to Sunlake Boulevard, which eventually will be extended to Pasco County.

Charles White, Hillsborough's transportation review manager, told commissioners that without the road, residents would face longer commutes to Pasco.

The strip would have accommodated the anticipated rise in traffic from a revitalized State Road 54 and diverted motorists from the strained Lutz-Lake Fern Road, he said.

Commissioner Mark Sharpe called the recommendation logical, saying "on paper there is a case to be made."

But while the staff looks at the regional impact on traffic, the commission also must consider the most local level, Sharpe said.

During testimony, many worried that a portion of the road that would cut through unoccupied land could lead to drag racing or other illegal activity.

Others expressed concern for children and golfers who regularly cross the parkway to reach athletic facilities, bus stops and to play a full 18 holes.

Commissioner Jim Norman voiced early support for the neighborhood. He said the county had a debt to the Sunlake Boulevard community, after a contract created years ago allowed heavy trucks to rumble through the area.

The trucks created excessive noise and left mounds of dirt in their wake. Despite county efforts, the binding agreement could not be undone, Norman said.

"That literally was the biggest screwup that I've ever been a part of in county government," he said after the meeting.

He urged fellow commissioners not to make a similar mistake.

"It's time this county stood up to protect your neighborhoods," Norman told residents. "That should not be a connection."

Dave Crawford, secretary of the Heritage Harbor homeowners association, said residents held multiple meetings to plan Tuesday's presentation, and an electronic petition garnered 578 signatures.

The effort demonstrated neighborhood solidarity, he said, the very dynamic they wanted to protect.

"Obviously we prevailed, and it was due to a lot of hard work," he said.

Steven Overly can be reached at soverly@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3435.

Hillsborough County Commission kills connector road near Lutz 08/11/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 11, 2009 10:22pm]
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