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Heavy lake traffic angers residents

Published Oct. 13, 2005

Hillsborough County commissioners will be asked next week to bridge the troubled waters between homeowners on one side of Lake Magdalene and apartment dwellers on the other. The property owners say boat traffic coming from the Lake Magdalene Arms apartment complex threatens their lake, their lifestyle and even their lives.

But the residents of the apartment complex, who have been launching their boats from a makeshift ramp for years, say their activities have not harmed the lake.

When the complex was built about 20 years ago, the zoning agreement called for no motorboat traffic from the apartments. But many boaters ignored the provision, or didn't know about it.

Finally, after complaints by homeowners on the lake, the county closed the boat ramp earlier this year. That action prompted owners of the apartment complex to ask the county to allow them to build a permanent boat ramp.

"(The ramp) has been there for 15 years and any impact associated with the boat ramp has already been realized," said Ethel Hammer, director of planning for the law firm of Taub & Williams, which is representing the apartment complex in the request.

The county's planning department is recommending a compromise. Planners say the complex should be able to build a ramp, but limit the number of apartment dwellers who can put boats on the lake.

"It's like a tennis club," said Shirley Gersholowitz, manager of the northwest section of the county's planning and zoning department. "You may have 50 members and only four courts, so you have to book time."

About 150 homeowners and about 800 apartment units have access to the 255-acre lake.

But the homeowners say compromise is out of the question.

"I vote a big no," Thaddeus Petryni said. "They want to build a concrete ramp, and when 800 people have access, people will start finding that ramp and start using it. It will become a public ramp."

The homeowners also say they are worried about boating safety.

Two years ago, a 23-year-old man was killed when his fishing boat was hit broadside by a speedboat as he pulled away from his family's dock on Lake Magdalene. The homeowners say they are fearful someone else will be killed if the lake becomes more crowded.

"The lake is not big enough to have more than 10 or 12 boats on it at a time," resident Paul Bearss said. "Someone's going to get killed."

At a hearing scheduled for Tuesday, the county planning department will recommend that the property owners and 50 tenants of the apartment complex be given a sticker for their boats so that traffic on the lake can be limited.

Property owners, however, oppose that suggestion.

"I see no justification for it, " said Steve Seibert, a Clearwater attorney representing the homeowners. "I don't see how it's enforceable or who would enforce it. It's a mess."