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Citrus Park squeals about pig farm

On a cool evening during the Memorial Day weekend, Frank and Dorcy Farrell invited friends and family to their Turtle Creek home for a barbecue and poolside relaxation. A rancid odor drifting from the pig farm behind them soon drove the festivities indoors.

Another night, neighbor William McCaig heard pigs being shot for slaughter. He has seen plumes of billowing smoke, apparently from the pigs being cooked, and smelled the thick scent of pig waste as it wafted over the neighborhood.

"The stench, when it comes in, is unbelievable," McCaig said. "It's just a nauseating, choking odor. It sounds like a silly situation until one experiences how serious it is."

Residents of the Turtle Creek subdivision off Bellamy Road say Victor Lopez's farm, a neighboring operation that Lopez says includes about 40 pigs and some cows, is a nuisance.

They appealed to the Environmental Protection Commission, the Hillsborough County Commission and the state Department of Agriculture, but got no relief. So the board of the Bellamy Road Homeowners Association _ which includes Turtle Creek _ decided to seek legal help.

The board voted Tuesday to have lawyer Mary Lynne Duet find a way to reduce the farm's impact on the neighborhood. The group, which represents 135 homeowners, also voted for an initial $500 fee cap.

Duet is McCaig's partner at McCaig & Duet, P.A. in Northdale. McCaig said he and his neighbors are frustrated by the lack of action from other officials.

"I think part of the problem is a lot of us individually have spent our own time trying to chase a satisfactory result," McCaig said. "We think that at this point, we need to get somebody involved that can adequately research the legal issues in a timely manner."

Farrell said the problems with the pigs began last year around the Christmas holidays.

"It's been an ongoing type deal," Farrell said. "We've just churned and churned and got nowhere."

Lopez says his operation is perfectly legal because his land is zoned agricultural. He said he has raised pigs for 20 years and has farmed in Citrus Park about four years.

"The EPC . . . they don't find anything wrong (with my farm)," Lopez said. "It's no problem, you know? I'm not doing anything illegal. Everything I do is legal."

Roger Stewart, executive director of the EPC of Hillsborough County, said the agency has investigated the farm, even bringing in an expert from the state Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences in Gainesville.

"The finding was (Lopez) was running a pretty exemplary operation. It's not a big, tumble-down filthy place," Stewart said. "That is a case of inappropriate zoning, really, which is not our jurisdiction.

"Very frankly," Stewart said, "as a person who kind of lives out in the country myself, I have not seen any thing here that is so nauseating and objectionable that you can't live with it."

Turtle Creek residents disagree. They say investigators usually don't experience the intensity of the smell because it is difficult to predict and tends to surface in the evenings.

Karen Telfer said she and her children have been chased indoors by the odor. She also doesn't like the idea of someone shooting guns so close to her house.

The smell "makes you feel like you want to gag," Telfer said. "When the weather cools down, I like to open the windows in the house, and that's not something we can do if that stench is outside."

When he bought his house three years ago, Farrell said a real estate agent told him the heavily wooded area behind his home was a conservation area. Now Lopez's red, tin-roofed barn peeks over the wall of his pool deck.

"We've heard countless times, "The man's got a right to enjoy his operation,' " Farrell said. "I agree he has rights, but if I was causing a nuisance to him, I would control it because I'm that type of person. If he can control that and keep it on his property, he can grow pigs until the end of time."

_ If you have a story about Citrus Park, call Erika Duckworth at 226-3472.

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