Residents' anti-road sentiment, Hillsborough County's growth plans at odds in Lutz

LUTZ — The people who named the road called it a "parkway." Hillsborough County officials call it a "collector road."

Heritage Harbor Parkway, which now dead-ends just past the golf course, was supposed to hook up to Sunlake Boulevard in Stonebrier, the next neighborhood over. Sunlake would then continue into Pasco County.

Now Centex, the developer of Stonebrier, no longer wants to build the road that would link the two. And homeowners in both neighborhoods have made it clear they don't want the road.

County planners disagree, insisting any retreat from their traffic plan will lead to wasted driving and congestion on existing roads.

It's a question raised again and again in suburban neighborhoods: Do government plans for a transportation grid trump a community's desire for peace and quiet?

Undisturbed nature

Kevin Mahoney's new house is 4,000 square feet, with five bedrooms and 31/2 baths. He bought the place, just off Sunlake, because he needed room for his four children and a home office.

With conservation areas on two sides, Mahoney and his family regularly see bobcats, turtles and other wildlife. A family of deer eats from their backyard bird feeder.

"Because our street is so small, everybody walks," he said. "They walk right across the intersection to get to the clubhouse. My kids, too."

A connector road would ruin all that, he said. What's more, he fears a deserted portion of the road would attract drag racers.

"We're not against development if it's useful," he said. "But none of us see any good reason for this."

The history of Heritage Harbor is longer, the road bumpier.

Developed in the 1990s, Heritage Harbor was built with a gate and guardhouse at its entrance on Lutz-Lake Fern Road.

Some homeowners realized, only after moving in, that the roads are public so the guard can't keep anyone out.

There was talk, for a while, of having the community purchase, or "privatize," the roads.

Enter the recession.

Values dropped, and some struggled to pay their homeowner assessments. The issue of privatization took a back burner. The community hired a roving guard service to help with security.

Centex, meanwhile, is undergoing a merger with Pulte Homes.

Engineering issues caused the developer to abandon plans to build homes along the Heritage Harbor Parkway extension, Centex spokesman David Webster said.

Without homes, the company argues, the road makes no sense. Hillsborough County commissioners will hold a hearing on the issue at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Is a link needed?

Opponents of the road extension say there are numerous ways to get around the area. Sunlake, which now dead-ends, eventually will meet up with State Road 54. Pasco County is working with private developers on that link. There are back roads, there is Dale Mabry Highway, and soon there will be a Lutz-Lake Fern Road interchange for the Suncoast Parkway.

That's not enough, the county argues. "A removal of any link or connection in this network will directly and negatively impact other roadways in the network by rerouting additional traffic to the remaining roadways," wrote Charles White of the county's planning and growth management department, in response to Centex's petition.

In other words, more people will have to use Lutz-Lake Fern Road, which is already in for a sea change with this month's opening of George Steinbrenner High School.

A simple trip would take 5 miles instead of 2, he wrote. Motorists would burn more fuel and pollute the air.

The Hillsborough County Planning Commission, similarly, wants the road.

Don't just think in terms of trips to Tampa, officials say.

Just north of the county line, SR 54 is undergoing a metamorphosis that will attract its share of traffic.

"There's potential for shopping and employment opportunities for the people of Heritage Harbor and Stonebrier," White said. Future destinations include an office complex now planned by T. Rowe Price, an investment firm that eventually will create 1,650 jobs.

"The SR 54 corridor is what Pasco considers to be its urban corridor," said David Goldstein, an assistant Pasco County attorney who is involved with the Sunlake extension project.

Safety issues

There are more than 500 signatures on an Internet petition that circulated through Heritage Harbor. The petition urges Hillsborough County to consider safety issues that will result if Heritage Harbor Parkway is extended.

"These safety issues include increased traffic that will endanger the lives of our children who walk and ride their bicycles in the community," the petition says.

David Crawford, who co-chairs the petition drive, said he's looking out for his two young children.

His 10-year-old son likes to play outside with the neighborhood children. "We're just getting to the point where we want to increase his little boundaries," he said.

Right now, he said, Heritage Harbor Parkway attracts pedestrians, joggers, teenagers with guitars, you name it. Golfers cross the road to get from one hole to the next.

"This was, at first in our minds, a gated community," he said.

"I don't think anybody thought they were buying into Avila, into a private community. Nonetheless, at least we feel like we are a destination."

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 269-5307 or sokol@sptimes.com.

Residents' anti-road sentiment, Hillsborough County's growth plans at odds in Lutz 08/09/09 [Last modified: Sunday, August 9, 2009 11:27pm]

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