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Drug treatment center OK for Hillsborough neighborhood. Here’s why.

Residents objected to 25-bed facility in enclave of single-family homes.
 
Developer Stephen J. Dibbs, wearing a hat, arranges signs when he led the charge to try to unravel Hillsborough County's wetlands protections. A Hillsborough Circuit Court judge ruled March 28 that the commission improperly rejected Dibbs' request to rezone a single-family home for use as a 25-bed drug treatment facility in Carrollwood.
Developer Stephen J. Dibbs, wearing a hat, arranges signs when he led the charge to try to unravel Hillsborough County's wetlands protections. A Hillsborough Circuit Court judge ruled March 28 that the commission improperly rejected Dibbs' request to rezone a single-family home for use as a 25-bed drug treatment facility in Carrollwood. [ JAY NOLAN | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published April 11, 2023|Updated April 11, 2023

The Hillsborough County Commission wrongly rejected zoning for a residential substance abuse center in a Carrollwood neighborhood, a circuit court judge has ruled.

The March 28 decision from Hillsborough Circuit Judge Mark Wolfe means Northdale developer Stephen J. Dibbs, a longtime critic of the county’s land-use regulations, can proceed with plans to turn a single-family home on Hoedt Road into a 25-bed treatment facility.

Dibbs sued to overturn commissioners, who voted 4-2 to reject the rezoning request last year. Prior to the vote, Commissioner Ken Hagan said the zoning change would permit commercial activity to intrude into a residential neighborhood.

The county’s development services staff, Planning Commission and land-use hearing officer all said the proposed zoning change was permissible under the county’s codes and comprehensive plan.

Neighbors, however, objected and sent the county 62 letters and a 268-signature petition in opposition. They cited the potential for reduced property values, additional traffic and safety concerns stemming from possible criminal activity at a drug rehabilitation center.

“We have been working hard for years to keep our neighborhoods safe and build our reputations as family-friendly. This proposal put our neighborhoods’ safe reputation at risk,” said Jeff Cain, head of the Neighborhood Watch for Hampton Lakes.

Residents opposed to Stephen J. Dibbs' proposal to rezone a single-family home for use as a 25-bed drug addiction treatment center are shown on this screenshot of an HGTV broadcast of the May 10, 2022, Hillsborough County Commission meeting.
Residents opposed to Stephen J. Dibbs' proposal to rezone a single-family home for use as a 25-bed drug addiction treatment center are shown on this screenshot of an HGTV broadcast of the May 10, 2022, Hillsborough County Commission meeting. [ Tampa Bay Times ]

Several residents also appeared at the May 10, 2022, commission hearing wearing red clothing to show their opposition. They found a sympathetic audience.

“I stand with the residents,” Hagan said in moving to deny Dibbs’ request during that hearing.

Commissioner Pat Kemp and then-commissioners Stacy White and Mariella Smith voted with him.

Wolfe, however, noted that prior court rulings have said “that denying proposed development based on a ‘popularity poll of the neighborhood’ is impermissible.”

Neither residents nor commissioners cited factual data to back up the claims of lower property values and other assertions.

Wolfe’s ruling quashed the commission’s decision and granted the rezoning “because the county commission departed from the essential requirements of law, and the record contains no competent, substantial evidence for the determination that denial of the proposed rezoning advances a legitimate public purpose,”

Kemp said it was inappropriate to comment on Wolfe’s ruling since the commission served in a quasi-judicial role when it voted on the zoning request. Hagan did not respond to messages seeking comment.

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Dibbs, in a text message to the Tampa Bay Times, said, “a rehab center is a good for the community and no threat to the neighborhoods.”

Dibbs has butted heads with the county multiple times previously. He unsuccessfully sued in federal court to try to void the community plan for rural Keystone/Odessa and also led the charge to try to overturn the county’s wetlands protections governed by the Hillsborough Environmental Protection Commission.