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Hillsborough holds developer to pledge to build bridge

Owner balks at $1.5 million cost; county says it provides safer path to an elementary school.
 
The Hillsborough County Commission met for its land-use meeting Aug. 11, 2020.
The Hillsborough County Commission met for its land-use meeting Aug. 11, 2020. [ C.T. BOWEN | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Aug. 11, 2020|Updated Aug. 11, 2020

TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners picked public school children’s safety over a developer’s bottom line Tuesday.

The commission unanimously required a developer to keep a prior pledge to build a pedestrian bridge, expected to aid students walking from the planned neighborhood to Belmont Elementary School in Riverview, scheduled to open this school year.

Eisenhower Property Group, owner of the 107 acres west of the intersection of U.S. 301 and Shady Prism Road, already has zoning entitlements to build more than 700 houses or apartments, or 320 homes if it opts to also build commercial and retail space on part of the property.

The planned development, known as South Creek, is divided among three pockets of land abutting Little Bullfrog Creek. As part of the earlier zoning approval, the land owners proposed to build a pedestrian bridge across the creek to connect pockets two and three.

Attorney S. Elise Batsel of the Stearns Weaver Miller law firm argued for a pedestrian bridge to be eliminated from a planned development in Riverview.
Attorney S. Elise Batsel of the Stearns Weaver Miller law firm argued for a pedestrian bridge to be eliminated from a planned development in Riverview. [ C.T. BOWEN | Tampa Bay Times ]

But, that was before the sticker shock. Through its attorney, S. Elise Batsel of Stearns Weaver Miller, the owner said the bridge would need to be 945 feet long to span the flood plain and also clear what she called the adjoining flood way. It could cost $1.5 million if it is built to state Department of Transportation standards, she said.

The pedestrian bridge, Batsel said, was envisioned as a way to connect residents in pocket three on the east side of the development to the planned businesses in pocket one on the west side. That plan has now changed, and pocket one will be the site of multi-family development, not commercial uses, she said.

The bridge requirement amounted to an illegal exaction by the county, she said, because the cost of connecting to two neighborhood pockets was disproportionate to its impact on the overall development.

Pocket three, she said, would have approximately 60 homes, so eliminating the bridge would “marginally reduce connectivity,” she said.

County staff members disagreed, however, saying the bridge is a necessary connectivity tool and would allow children living in pockets one and two easier access to the elementary school that is directly south of the planned neighborhood.

Commissioners weren’t buying the arguments, either.

“I think it is important to give the children not only a convenient route to school, but a safe route to school through the development, no matter how much it costs,” said Commissioner Mariella Smith.

They did agree, however, to the developer’s request to build the bridge later than originally planned to avoid connecting a pocket of new homes to an active construction site.

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“At the end of the day, the bridge was committed to before and I want to make sure that commitment is sustained,” said Commissioner Kimberly Overman.