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Dealership's high beams wake neighbors

(ran PC edition)

Some residents in the Villages of Wesley Chapel say the glare from Heritage Ford is disruptive.

As construction began on a new dealership, Heritage Ford officials assured neighbors in the Villages of Wesley Chapel that lights on the lot wouldn't disturb them.

So far, Heritage Ford (which opens next week on State Road 54 near Saddlebrook) has activated only one of its light poles, and already it has neighbors complaining about the glare.

Rosemary Rogers said her home on Thomasville Place "lit up like a Christmas tree" starting about 8 p.m. Tuesday. Rogers sealed her window blinds as best she could, but sleep was still hard to come by.

"It's bright. It's like daylight in here. And the light pole isn't even close to my house," she complained Wednesday morning.

Another neighbor, Linda Hawley, noticed a glare in her house and figured she had left her pool light on.

"Then we looked outside and said, "It's not the pool light,' " Hawley said.

Rogers stormed off to Heritage Ford's current location in Zephyrhills with an angry message for general manager Ed Ortiz. But Ortiz wasn't there.

Although Ortiz couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday, he has vowed in the past to be a good neighbor to the Village of Wesley Chapel, a subdivision of mostly $100,000-plus homes east of Interstate 75.

His promises included using new pole lighting that directs its beams toward the highway and away from the homes. The dealership also promises to dispense with blaring intercoms common to other automobile showrooms.

But Hawley wonders how the dealership will manage to steer the glare from dozens of lights away from the homes.

"It's like the sun," she said. "You can't tell what direction it's pointing. It's bright all around it."

The light controversy is only the latest in a running dispute with the dealership since it broke ground in January.

Many neighbors say they feel duped by their subdivision's builder, Centex Homes. It's true that Centex told buyers the land abutting their homes was zoned commercial. But homeowners said sales representatives didn't reveal that Heritage owned the land and would probably build a dealership there. Centex has said it is not company practice to specify who owns nearby land.

Rogers and Hawley are talking about taking their grievances to a lawyer. Both claim their homes have become nearly unsellable since Heritage's showroom started rising from the sand.

The homeowner's association has suggested making higher the wall that separates the dealership from Thomasville Place. But neighbors are wary of what they consider another empty promise.

"Would you like to live in a house like this?" Rogers said. "I'm devastated."