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Planners oppose Lutz high school site

(ran NTP edition)

County planners criticized the proposed site for a Lutz high school on Friday, raising the possibility of a face-off on the issue between the county government and the school board.

Staffers urged the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission _ which is to pass judgment on the site Monday _ to conclude that a high school at Livingston Avenue and Max Smith Road is inconsistent with the county's long-range growth plans.

"A high school in this location would be an intrusion into a rural area and would contribute to an urban-sprawl development pattern," the staff report concluded.

Florida law bans construction of a school on a site that violates the local government's comprehensive plan. But the law, recently amended to increase the county's involvement, doesn't specify who has the final say on whether a site fits the plan.

The site in Lutz, one of the most controversial in years, is to receive an advisory vote from the Planning Commission on Monday and a concluding vote from the County Commission on April 2.

An assistant county attorney has written that a rejection of the site by the County Commission would force the School Board to choose another site.

But school officials have indicated they disagree.

As to the Planning Commission staff report, "We really have no opinion at this time," Joe Trumbach, the school system's director of administration, said Friday afternoon. "We haven't had time to read it and see what they're really saying."

The report noted that the school will require $1.3-million in water and sewer lines and $1-million in road improvements. Those road improvements do not include a widening of Livingston Avenue, which backs up for a mile during morning rush hours.

"This overburdened situation, along with a lack of sidewalks and bike lanes, would seem to make an unsafe situation for students traveling to and from the school," the report said.

The report also noted that the school site would be on the eastern edge of the high school's zone, a zone where only moderate population growth is forecast.

It said the site ideally should be within the Urban Service Area, a large portion of unincorporated Hillsborough County where local government expects growth and has committed to provide sufficient roads and utilities. That service area excludes the northern half of Lutz.

"It is questionable public policy to spend public dollars on capital improvements in a location where new growth is limited and to a certain degree discouraged," the report said.

The county School Board voted a month ago to buy the 80-acre former chicken farm for $1.9-million. Among the dozen sites that were studied, it emerged as one of the cheapest and most free of wetlands and other design barriers.

School officials say the Lutz school is needed to end double sessions at Gaither High School. They hope to design it quickly by duplicating Sickles High School, which is now under construction in Citrus Park.

But last week's report increases the likelihood of delay. If county commissioners agree with it, their vote could force or persuade the school system to seek another site.

Even if the Max Smith site remains the first choice, the report could buttress any legal challenge to it.

Two weeks ago, County Commissioner Jan Platt predicted one. "I personally think this is going to end up in a lawsuit one way or another," she told fellow commissioners.

Two months ago, attorney Ted Taub warned the school board that the site would violate the state's growth management law. Taub represents a group of Lutz neighbors opposed to the site.

Denise Lasher, a leader of the group, praised Friday's staff report. "I'm very pleased with what they've concluded," she said. "It's what I've been saying all along."

If you go

The Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission is to hear public comment and make its recommendation Monday on the Lutz high school site. The meeting is at 5:30 p.m. in the second floor County Commission chambers, 601 E Kennedy Blvd., Tampa.

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