Advertisement
  1. News

Back to the future? Hillsborough Planning Commission okays filling lagoon for townhomes

A lagoon excavated to help create the Rocky Point area may be filled again for a three-acre townhome project. Proponents say it will help the environment because it includes a retention pond that would clean storm water runoff. Adding more people to a high-hazard flood area is among the opponents' objections. [ALESSANDRA DA PRA | Times]
Published May 16, 2018

TAMPA — Think of the bay breeze wafting through Snell Isle's graceful curving streets, Davis Islanders' stunning views of Hillsborough Bay, or the man-made fingers that make up Venetian Isles.

Many of Tampa Bay's most scenic and pricey waterfront neighborhoods were built by pouring soil into the open water. Known as "dredge and fill," the practice largely ended in the 1970s as lawsuits and state and federal laws designed to protect marine environments made it difficult.

Now, officials in Tampa may be turning back the clock.

On Monday, the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission approved a proposal to fill in 3 acres of open water north of Rocky Point Drive, near the eastern end of the Courtney Campbell Causeway.

An Albany, N.Y., developer wants to build 16 townhomes there, each 3?½ stories high with a private dock. Residents would enjoy views of private Scarborough Park and what's left of an 8.8 acre lagoon once part of it is filled to create the property.

The 6-3 vote followed more than 90 minutes of contentious discussion among planning commissioners, neighbors and businesses. Opponents call it a precedent-setting decision that would harm marine life, limit public access to the water, and encourage people to move into a coastal flood zone.

"The decision to change the future use of an underwater parcel located in a high-hazard area simply boggles the mind," Kent Bailey, chairman of the Sierra Club's Tampa Bay Group, said Tuesday. "Clearly, the Planning Commission isn't taking the threat of sea-level rise seriously. That area is plagued by serious flooding now."

Planning Commission staffers found the project consistent with the city of Tampa's comprehensive land-use plan, meshing with the goal of promoting residential development in the West Shore district. The water has its own zoning designation and it's compatible with nearby properties. What's more, there's no evidence of sea grass growing in the man-made lagoon, carved out during the dredge-and-fill operation that created Rocky Point decades ago.

A retention pond proposed for the development would also help clean polluted stormwater from Rocky Point Drive before it reaches Old Tampa Bay, the staff determined.

Current multifamily zoning of the area would allow up to 170 units so the 16 townhomes proposed would not increase population in the high-hazard coastal zone, they determined.

"There's not policy direction that clearly states in the comp plan that water should not have a land use," said Planning Commission principal planner David Hey. The commission staff didn't want to pick winners and losers, he said.

State law makes it clear that proponent Prime Cos. can develop the submerged land it first acquired in 2006 for $10,000, said the company's local representative, David B. Dickey. Dredge and fill may not be as common as it once was, Dickey said, but dredging is still routine along existing residential canals. He said the project's stormwater retention would prove an environmental plus by improving water quality in the bay.

The Tampa City Council will consider the Planning Commission's recommendation when it makes a decision on the project. Speaking at the Monday meeting, a Tampa representative said the city's own planning staff objects to the proposal for eliminating open space, damaging the park and bringing more residents to a high-hazard flood zone.

City approval to fill in the lagoon is one stop on a regulatory road for Prime Cos. Separate permits would have to be acquired from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the proposal is subject to a formal review by the county's Environmental Protection Commission.

But early indications are good, said Michael D. Horner, a Tampa land-use and zoning consultant working with Prime Cos.

"We have every reasonable possibility of getting those permits," Horner said.

Some planning commissioners said they worry about setting a dangerous precedent by opening Tampa Bay back up to dredge-and-fill projects. The Planning Commission staff agreed it might.

Commissioner Nigel M. Joseph pressed the staff on whether the lagoon could be considered wetlands, subject to protection. Maybe, the staff replied, especially shallow parts that show wetland attributes.

Opposition came from the nearby Dana Shores neighborhood.

"It's water that people use and boat in," said Margaret Bowles. "We're concerned that it's just going to start a trend of development."

Surrounding hotels like the Westin Hotel and Hilton's Doubletree Suites also protested, saying the project would hurt their business because guests rank water views and sightings of dolphins and manatees as reasons to book rooms.

"Where does it stop?" asked Steve Michelini, a Westin consultant. "The fact that the city and the county staff can't find policies to object doesn't mean it should be approved. We should be going the other way. Where is it that it says you should fill water to provide development land?"

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727)893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Eric McNeil Jr., 25, faces a charge of second-degree murder and two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm, police said. Tampa Police Department
    A man was found dead on E Fowler Avenue near the railroad tracks. Now police have made an arrest.
  2. Yosvanys Infante, 29, faces a charge of first-degree murder according to police. Tampa Police Department
    Yosvanys Infante was linked to a fatal shooting that took place on Sept. 21, according to Tampa police.
  3. Parents of students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a shooter killed 17 people in 2018, push petitions for 2020 ban on assault weapons in Florida. (Miami Herald) MIAMI HERALD  |
    After months of glitches, the Department of State is resorting to a paper workaround while ballot initiatives face higher costs.
  4. Guests of the Flying Bridge at the Tradewinds Resort, which is now under new ownership. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times]
    The new owner says he plans to keep its management and 1,100 employees.
  5. Former Pasco County Corrections Officer Wendy Miller, 57 runs towards gunfire with instructor Chris Squitieri during active shooter drills taught by Pasco County Sheriff's Office at Charles S. Rushe Middle School in Land O' Lakes. These drills are put are a larger training program for the Guardian program that will staff elementary schools with trained armed guards.  LUIS SANTANA   |   Times "LUIS SANTANA  |  TIMES"  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The change is a reversal of a previous move by the department, which specifically excluded armed teachers from its policy.
  6. A vistor at Harvest Moon Fun Farm's grabs a pumpkin from the pumpkin patch in Masaryktown. ANGELIQUE HERRING  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Things to do for Halloween in Pasco and Hernando counties
  7. Dr. Harvey Partridge and his wife Pat were killed when their plane crashed on approach to Raleigh-Durham International Airport. Harvey Partridge founded St. Petersburg's Partridge Animal Hospital in 1978. This photo was posted in 2017 to the hospital's Facebook page. St. Petersburg's Partridge Animal Hospital Facebook page
    Harvey and Pat Partridge’s plane disappeared from the airport radar. The wreckage was found the next day.
  8. The University of South Florida has earned national accolades for its push to raise graduation rates. Student loan debt in Florida is so crushing that it makes it hard to afford a house.
    Staggering debt loads make it hard to buy a home.
  9. A meteor is seen streaking left to right above the constellation Orion in the early hours of Dec. 14, 2012 in the sky above Tyler, Texas.  The metor is part of the Geminid meteor shower, which is peaking tonight.  As many as 50 per hour are being seen.  The meteors radiate from the region of sky containing the constellation Gemini which give them their name.  (AP Photo/Dr. Scott M. Lieberman) DR. SCOTT M. LIEBERMAN  |  AP
    Considered one of “most beautiful meteor showers of the year” by NASA, the Orionids are expected to peak Monday night into Tuesday morning.
  10. Bayonet Point Middle School teacher Cynthia Thompson wants to become Pasco County schools superintendent. Courtesy of Cynthia Thompson
    Cynthia Thompson is a graduation enhancement instructor at Bayonet Point Middle School.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement