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Lake Hutto gets okay despite traffic worries

After several delays, the Hillsborough County Commission has approved Lake Hutto, one of the largest developments in the county's history.

It could add 3,200 homes to the Lithia area west of Lithia-Pinecrest Road, plus 360,000 square feet of retail and office space.

It also will add traffic to already congested roads, a point argued over the past year by critics of the plan, many of whom live in nearby subdivisions such as Mason Oaks and FishHawk Ranch.

Commissioners decided by a 5-2 vote to rezone the 1,100-acre planned development, and relax limits in the county's comprehensive plan and allow twice as many houses in one of Lake Hutto's three parcels.

New Commissioners Rose Ferlita and Al Higgenbotham opposed the request by Pulte Homes.

Ferlita cited the potential for worsening the existing traffic gridlock as the reason for her thumbs-down vote.

"They're putting one poor decision on top of another," said Kelly Cornelius, 35, who lives east of FishHawk and opposed the development.

Pulte will contribute 32 acres for an elementary and a middle school and park, and donate $3 million for a wing at Newsome High, to be used for afterschool programs.

Had commissioners denied the request, Pulte still could have built 2,258 homes under its agricultural and planned development zoning, a fact that weighed heavily in Commissioner Mark Sharpe's decision.

"For a difference of a thousand units, we get the school sites and $71 million," Sharpe said, alluding to Pulte's promise to underwrite $27-million for road improvements in Eastern Hillsborough County.

Part of that money will be used to widen Lithia-Pinecrest and Bell Shoals roads to four lanes, said Bob Campbell, a transportation director for the county's department of planning and growth management.

The county is now widening Boyette Road to four lanes from Balm Riverview to Bell Shoals Road. The commission's vote included a stipulation that the county study the costs of widening Boyette Road to six lanes.

Lithia-Pinecrest, Bell Shoals and Boyette roads all rate an "F" on the county's grading scale, Campbell said.

"There is really no relief in sight for those roads" said Bob Gordon, the county transportation director.

About 30 people attended the commission meeting wearing red shirts signaling their opposition to Lake Hutto.

"I don't know how you can do worse than an 'F' road," said Cornelius, of FishHawk.

Brenda Fewox of Lithia, 45, said it takes her 25 minutes to drive 11 miles to reach Interstate 75 on her way to work.

"We're going to have a bottleneck at the mouth of that development," she said.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (813) 661-2431 or ameacham@sptimes.com.

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