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Traffic concerns undermine plans for New Tampa charter school

NEW TAMPA — Backers of the proposed New Tampa Academy talked of bringing a curriculum heavy on science, technology, engineering and math to a new charter school just north of the Muvico Starlight 20 theaters.

But West Meadows residents feared what the school would really bring was heavy traffic, and they recently persuaded the City Council to deny a requested development plan for the 650-student school.

The applicant, Bay Court Inc. of Boca Raton, had proposed building a school for kindergarten through eighth-grade students, plus, eventually, a day care center, on 17 acres at Highwoods Preserve Parkway and Brinegar Circle.

"It's going to have a low impact," Matt Smith, an attorney for the school, told the council. It wouldn't be a high school with football games, band practice or stadium lights blazing into the night, and he said school traffic would be negligible.

But West Meadows homeowners association president Brad van Rooyen said residents "simply feel this is the wrong location for a project of this size."

To support their case, residents hired a high-powered land use attorney and brought in their own traffic consultant. They also presented testimony from a former Hillsborough County school administrator and two former City Council members, Joseph Caetano and state Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa.

Harrison, who was on the council when the land was rezoned for a church in 2001, said the school plan wouldn't work and urged council members to keep the existing plan.

The council agreed, voting 6-0, with Mary Mulhern absent, to reject the request. Council member Mike Suarez said the hazards potentially created by traffic to and from the school justified his motion for denial.

If the school plans to go to court to appeal the council's Jan. 12 vote, to amend and refile its petition or to seek a new site, it is not saying. Smith this week referred questions to Bay Court's Joseph Rauenhorst, who did not respond to a request for comment.

Richard Danielson can be reached at, (813) 226-3403 or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.