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Hillsborough must OK 204 new homes on rural land, judge rules

It’s the “worst kind of sprawl,” says a former commissioner.
 
Aerial photo of homes and new construction in the Southfork Lakes subdivision in Riverview. In April a Hillsborough Circuit Court judge paved the way for home builder Mattamy Tampa/Sarasota to build 204 homes on 102 acres in Riverview, ruling the Hillsborough County Commission improperly rejected the rezoning request in 2021.
Aerial photo of homes and new construction in the Southfork Lakes subdivision in Riverview. In April a Hillsborough Circuit Court judge paved the way for home builder Mattamy Tampa/Sarasota to build 204 homes on 102 acres in Riverview, ruling the Hillsborough County Commission improperly rejected the rezoning request in 2021. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published May 9, 2023|Updated May 9, 2023

In 2021, then-Hillsborough County Commissioner Mariella Smith said “the timing is simply not now” to allow 204 new homes on 102 rural acres in Riverview.

A Hillsborough circuit judge ruled 2023 is the time.

In an April 5 order, Circuit Judge Jennifer Gabbard said the commission incorrectly rejected a zoning request two years ago from Mattamy Tampa/Sarasota Inc. for undeveloped land on the west side of Balm Boyette Road, south of Boyette Road.

The builders wanted to change the farm land into a planned development to include two homes per acre and a commercial center on the property that is outside the county’s urban service boundary. The rural location entitled the owners to just one home per 5 acres. County rules, however, allow for a tenfold increase in the number of homes if the project is developed as a village with clustered homes, a commercial node for close-to-home shopping, open land to buffer neighboring property and other requirements.

Some nearby residents objected, saying the development provided insufficient buffers, could cause flooding and would be placed in an area that has substandard roads with narrow shoulders and no sidewalks.

Smith agreed.

“Maybe later we can put 200 houses here, but not today,” she said, pointing to crowded schools, watering restrictions in place then and other stressed infrastructure in rapidly developing south county.

The proposal, Smith said, contradicted the community plan for Riverview, which, among other things, called for wide sidewalks and pedestrian paths.

Commissioners Harry Cohen, Pat Kemp and former Commissioner Kimberly Overman joined her in turning down the zoning change on a 4-3 vote.

Mattamy asked the court to quash the vote, saying the commission didn’t cite the required evidence to back up their decision. Gabbard said likewise in her ruling.

“The speculative opinion testimony of the citizens that the road was in poor condition and their concerns about flooding are not competent substantial evidence,” Gabbard ruled. ”While these opinions and comments from citizens support that the project is not desired by them, it does not show incompatibility” with the county’s land plan.

In court, the county also argued the development would promote urban sprawl, but Gabbard noted the Riverview community plan recognized the area as a “rapidly suburbanizing, no longer rural community.”

The ruling differs from a judicial order issued just a month before the commission’s April 2021 zoning hearing and vote on Mattamy’s petition. In the earlier case, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Carl Hinson rejected a bid to overturn the commission, rebuffing a zoning change in 2019 that would have allowed a different developer to build 899 homes on 449 acres in Balm.

“The record contains competent, substantial evidence that there are legitimate public interests in maintaining the current zoning,” Hinson wrote in the order cited by Smith when she called for rejecting the request by Mattamy.

Mattamy attorney Scott McLaren of Hill Ward Henderson was unavailable for comment.

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Gabbard’s ruling sent the issue back to commissioners who voted 6-1 Tuesday, with Commissioner Pat Kemp dissenting, to approve the rezoning.

“We have very little latitude here,” said Commission chairperson Ken Hagan.

Smith, who lost her reelection bid in 2022, defended the commission’s prior decision.

“The whole thing is just frustrating to me and disheartening that this judge did not understand all the points that I worked so hard to put on the record,” Smith said Monday. “The are so many good reasons for the county to have denied this proposal.

“It’s the worst kind of sprawl that has gotten this county into the mess we’re in now with trying to spread out our infrastructure too thinly.”