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Hillsborough commission won’t halt disputed Keystone development

Residents asked for a stop work order on the Taylor Morrison project in rural northwest Hillsborough.
Despite a request from residents, Hillsborough commissioners said Wednesday they could not halt work on a Taylor Morrison project again without giving the company due process to answer allegations that it violated county permitting rules.
Despite a request from residents, Hillsborough commissioners said Wednesday they could not halt work on a Taylor Morrison project again without giving the company due process to answer allegations that it violated county permitting rules. [ C.T. BOWEN | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Aug. 17|Updated Aug. 17

TAMPA — Keystone residents are already asking a court to stop a national homebuilder from assembling a 194-home development in their rural hamlet in northwest Hillsborough.

On Wednesday, they took their case to the Hillsborough County Commission as well. Eleven people asked the county to issue a stop work order on the project for what they said were repeated permit violations by developer Taylor Morrison.

“They have no respect whatsoever for Hillsborough County laws or our community,” said Ward Netscher of Odessa.

The county previously shut down the work site in April and issued a $310,00 fine after citing the company for illegally removing trees from the 200 acres between Patterson and McGlamery roads. The company eventually obtained its county-issued development order in early May after agreeing to make amends.

On Wednesday, residents repeated the allegations they had forwarded to the county previously. They said the contractor worked three months without a county permit; has worked earlier in the day and later at night than its permit allows; moved protected gopher tortoises improperly and stockpiled dirt mounds without permission.

The residents found a sympathetic ear in Commissioner Ken Hagan.

“Simply put, I think they’ve been fairly bad neighbors. The community is clearly fed up. I’m fed up with them,” Hagan said in an interview before the meeting.

Other commissioners echoed his sentiment, characterizing Taylor Morrison as a blatant violator of county regulations.

“We know we have an actor here who can’t be trusted to follow the rules,” said Commissioner Harry Cohen.

A public relations agency representing Taylor Morrison said Wednesday it could not provide immediate comment.

But county sympathy didn’t translate into a stop work order after County Attorney Christine Beck said commission action could supersede the company’s due process rights.

Hillsborough County issued a stop work order in April for site development work on land off Patterson Road in the Keystone area of  northwest Hillsborough. The land is planned to be the site of 194 homes by Taylor Morrison. Wednesday, residents asked the county to halt work on the project again.
Hillsborough County issued a stop work order in April for site development work on land off Patterson Road in the Keystone area of northwest Hillsborough. The land is planned to be the site of 194 homes by Taylor Morrison. Wednesday, residents asked the county to halt work on the project again. [ Hillsborough County ]

Instead, commissioners agreed unanimously to beef up county oversight of the project and to investigate the potential for increasing fines for repeat violators of county development rules.

Residents had asked for the county to halt work on the development until a Hillsborough Circuit Court could hear their request for an injunction. Twenty residents filed a lawsuit in June against the county seeking to void the May 5 development order to Taylor Morrison, which later joined the suit as an intervenor on the county’s behalf.

The residents’ suit contends the development violates the rural protections contained in the county-adopted overlay district and community plan for Keystone and Odessa. The community plan limits new residential development to one home per 5 acres and requires septic service and well water to discourage sprawl.

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Taylor Morrison plans a neighborhood of approximately one home per gross acre, but the lawsuit states 124 of the lots will be on a minimum of 10,000 square feet, or a quarter-acre.

The county approved zoning the land for one home per acre in 1991, a decade before the community plan’s rural protections went into effect. Commissioners acknowledged Wednesday they have no recourse to change the allowable density.

“I feel their pain in seeing this development moving forward even though it is completely contrary to their community plan,” said Commissioner Mariella Smith.

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