TAMPA — Hillsborough commissioners approved a new 299-home development in Wimauma Tuesday with an accompanying road plan that paves the way for the school district to build three new schools in fast-growing south county.
The zoning approvals for Lennar Homes’ 299-home project and the nearby schools come eight months after the Hillsborough School District warned of potential double sessions and other measures to address school crowding in the area. At the start of the current school year, the district reported its year-old Sumner High School in Riverview already was 700 students above capacity.
School construction in south county has been stymied by the abundance of substandard, two-lane roads — narrow paths with no shoulders or sidewalks — that do not meet county criteria as appropriate sites for public schools. District officials and school board members have said they are hamstrung by a state law that prohibits districts from paying for off-site transportation projects that are not contiguous to school property.
The commission approved Lennar’s bid to rezone 75 acres of agricultural land on the east side of West Lake Drive, about 500 yards north of Bishop Road in Wimauma, to allow the 299 homes. As a condition of the zoning change, Lennar agreed to build off-site road improvements “not otherwise warranted or to a scale and scope not otherwise warranted” by its housing development, the company said.
Those include 10-foot-wide bicycle and pedestrian paths on both sides of West Lake Drive for approximately 1.5 miles between Stare Road 674 and Bishop Road.
“That’s safer for the school students,” said Steve Henry, the traffic engineer retained by Lennar.
The home builder also will install a traffic signal and multiple turn lanes at the intersection of West Lake Drive and State Road 674, under its agreement with the county and school district.
The commission vote also rezoned 100 acres of property allowing the school district to build elementary, middle and high schools on land at the northeast corner of West Lake Drive and Brigman Avenue.
Commissioners lauded Lennar for agreeing to the roadwork and for its planned subdivision that includes a road grid system to promote connectivity, an environmental preserve and a mix of housing to appeal to customers with varying income levels.
Commissioners Pat Kemp and Mariella Smith both said they hope Lennar’s collaboration with the county and school district can become the model for future developments.
The school district’s long-term construction plan calls for 15 new schools over the next 15 years, plus the expansions of Wimauma Elementary and Spoto High schools and conversion of middle school classrooms at Sumner to high school use.