KEYSTONE — Jeannie Holton calls herself a fan of history.
Her property on Echo Lake in Keystone includes a house she believes dates to the 1890s. It sits on 2 acres that has been used as a spiritual community and had ties in the 1930s to a group called the Northwest Florida Hunting Club.
But it’s the piece of history down the street that worries her.
There, scores of grand oaks stand along McGlamery Road. The property spreads out across approximately 200 acres that is also home to cypress trees, wetlands and a pasture that still has the trough that served its former tenants — cattle.
The land, sitting between McGlamery and Patterson roads, is poised to become a 194-home development from Taylor Morrison. One of the planned entrances is off McGlamery, a narrow, winding two-lane road with no shoulders.
“It’s heartbreaking to think of that going away. They (trees) are so old. This is history –— Hillsborough County history,” said Holton, 69.
Grand oak trees get special protections under a county ordinance. But, then again, residents note, so do the entire 36 square miles of Keystone and Odessa in rural northwest Hillsborough. The area, bordered on the west by Pinellas County and on the north by Pasco, is covered by one of the more than 20 community plans in Hillsborough that, essentially, are locally crafted rule books for how a vicinity can develop.
The county approved the Keystone-Odessa plan in 2001, affirmed it a decade later and successfully defended it against a developer’s failed federal court challenge nine years ago.
So, residents thought the rules wouldn’t change.
“We kind of presumed everything around here was under the purview of the Keystone development plan,” said Larry Newsome, 68, who lives on Echo View Drive. “There’s no way the Keystone development plan would allow that number of houses in such a compressed area.”
The plan states that Keystone-Odessa “will continue to be a rural community, embracing its agricultural past. Its continuing desire is to be an open area that: values nature above commercialism; dark, star-filled skies at night above the glare of urban lights; and, the sound of crickets and frogs above traffic noise.”
That’s apparent from a drive around the community. Across the street from Holton’s home is a blueberry farm. Down the street, you can get fresh eggs from another neighbor’s chickens, and the area’s designated commercial node at Gunn Highway and North Mobley Road includes a feed store where workers stacked bales of hay one day last week.
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The community plan also says rural roads will remain two lanes and “traffic generated by surrounding high population centers are not to degrade the community’s country roads.”
Most notably, high-density development is verboten. Residential development is limited to one home per 5 acres and must be served by water wells and septic tanks.
Therein lies the biggest rub of the Taylor Morrison plan. It calls for roughly one home per gross acre and it plans to pipe county water and sewer service to the neighborhood.
“You look at that and you think one house per acre and that’s not too awfully bad,” said Newsome, “but by the time they back out the amount of acreage for roadways and the amount of property for retention ponds, you end up with a whole lot of houses on sort of postage stamp lots.”
Through a publicist, Taylor Morrison declined to comment to the Tampa Bay Times on residents’ concerns, saying it was premature to discuss details of the project.
There also has been no communication with neighbors. They said they found out about Taylor Morrison’s plan when they started asking questions after survey stakes went up on the land.
“This is an atrocity. We had no warning whatsoever,” said John Doble, 82, who’s lived on McGlamery Road for more than 30 years.
“Blindsided,” said Holton.
Taylor Morrison closed on the land in December, acquiring 209 acres from Double Screen Associates LLP in an $11.75 million transaction. The managers of Double Screen are grandchildren of Austin Davis, whose name adorns the public library branch serving Keystone. Davis, who died in 1992, was one of the founders of the Winn-Dixie grocery store chain.
Double Screen also sold 250 acres of pasture and wetlands to Hillsborough County through its environmental lands program for $6.6 million in 2020. That’s another issue, said Doble: why put high-density housing next to a preserve?
Residents cite increased traffic, light pollution, stresses on public safety and environmental degradation among their concerns.
The Keystone Civic Association also objected to the development because it contradicts the community plan.
So, how exactly did a homebuilder get permission for a fivefold increase in allowable housing density in a protected rural area?
What Holton and others discovered is this: History is not on their side.
The county approved zoning the land for one home per gross acre in the early 1990s, 10 years before the community plan went into effect. The property’s proposed housing density is permissible because it received grandfather status, exempting it from the community plan’s development standards.
Holton, who also goes by her married name of Jeannie Carufel, is no stranger to speaking her mind. A Sunday afternoon disc jockey on community radio station WMNF 88.5-FM, she was involved in civic causes while serving as president of the Historic Hyde Park Neighborhood Association for five years. She had lived in Keystone previously and moved back in 2006.
“I refuse to believe there’s nothing we can do about it,” Holton said. “But the way things are going, I could be wrong.”