DOVER — Residents in this part of east Hillsborough County have seen their share of eyesores and oddities among the rural homesteads that welcome travelers on Interstate 4.
There's the derelict restaurant at the Forbes Road exit that looks like a double-decker tugboat run aground. And the fading orange T-Rex that towers 40 feet above other fiberglass beasts in "Dinosaur World," a family park-roadside attraction a few exits away in Plant City.
But people living along the sleepy, two lane roads that lead to and from I-4 say the latest roadside instillation — two purple billboards advertising plans to build a used car lot in the area's last remaining pastureland — goes a step too far.
County staff already have given their initial stamp of approval to the proposal, which would turn the 19-acre cow pasture at the intersection of McIntosh and Muck Pond roads into a 1,000-vehicle used car lot operated by Off Lease Only Inc. A vote to allow construction on the site was initially scheduled for last week but was pushed back to April 9, surprising a gaggle of green-shirted residents gathered in opposition.
They say they're ready for a fight.
They've made phone calls and matching t-shirts. They've flooded county planning offices with emails, phone calls and letters opposing the project. More than 300 area residents have signed a petition and residents in the nearby Pemberton Creek neighborhood have retained their own team of planning and zoning lawyers to help make their case to county commissioners.
"The two flashy purple and yellow billboards are a testimonial to what we can expect…Goodbye cattle, horses and chickens. Hello huge spotlights, blaring loudspeakers and bumper to bumper traffic," Lynn English, a second-generation Pemberton Creek resident, wrote in a letter to county officials.
"Just last week I came upon a truck stopped on Muck Pond Road with a neighbor waiting patiently next to a white cow that had come out from the safety of his fence,'' English wrote. "My neighbor had called for help and was waiting with the cow to be lured back into its pasture. Who waits with a cow in this day and age? My neighbors do!"
The dealership is the latest example of county-approved construction eating into the sprawling farmlands, homesteads, citrus groves and strawberry fields of the Dover-Seffner area that gave birth to Hillsborough County, said Pemberton Creek Property Owners Association President Jim Drapp.
A major issue is the dealership's planned entrance and exit on Muck Pond Road, an aging two-lane road already stressed by traffic from three schools — Bailey Elementary, Independence Academy Charter School and Strawberry Crest High School.
Surrounding roads, including the more developed McIntosh Road, are still often clogged by tractors or wandering chickens even as traffic increases each year. The roads form a thoroughfare between Plant City and the Brandon area, funneling suburban commuters from sprawling subdivisions to the interstate.
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Adding a used car dealer is sure to endanger not only those who live near the site but also migrant farm workers commuting to fields by foot and students traveling to and from Strawberry Crest High, which is located less than a mile away, Drapp said.
Another complication: The site has a one-acre wetland in the heart of the 20-acre property.
"The location of the wetland is within the center of the build-able areas; therefore, impact avoidance is not an option," a contracted environmental scientist wrote in a site evaluation for the county.
The proposal calls for construction of a 154,000-square-foot structure, including a clubhouse, building setbacks of up to 200 feet and parking for up to 1,000 used cars. The business would be open seven days a week.
In October, county traffic engineers found an error in its evaluation of the dealership's potential impact on area traffic. The commission initially supported the car lot when the faulty impact studies estimated it would generate less than 300 additional trips per day. When that number was later amended to more than 1,400 trips per day, commissioners agreed to delay the vote.
Contact Anastasia Dawson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.