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Thursday, May 24, 2018
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County seeks input on where to use big-box road funds

BRANDON — Bloomingdale residents are in the unusual position of having a say about how road improvement money contributed by the developer of a future big-box store and apartments should be spent — and the residents, meanwhile, are suing the government for allowing the project in the first place.

A meeting about those road improvement priorities is scheduled for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Bloomingdale High School auditorium, 1700 E. Bloomingdale Ave.

Members of CAN-DO — Coordinated Active Neighborhoods for Development Organization — are suing Hillsborough County about land-use rule changes that allowed the big-box development, which they say is too intense for the area and will exacerbate an already horrid traffic situation. They plan to show up Tuesday evening to air their views.

The store and apartment complex are planned next to Bloomingdale Regional Library.

Hillsborough County Public Works Director John Lyons said he will listen to residents before presenting a report to county commissioners on Feb. 19. The commission can choose where the money for road improvements will be used.

CAN-DO members want any improvements to be close to the site of the proposed store and apartments rather than the distant location they say county officials favor.

Red Cast LLC, the developer of the proposed store and apartments, must give the county $564,000 to offset the project’s effect on local roads. Lyons said the money could be used for any planned road project within about a three-mile radius of the project, which includes needed improvements at Lumsden and Lithia-Pinecrest roads, on the outer edge of the boundary.

“According to (county) documents and communications, the funds are already being diverted to Lumsden and Lithia-Pinecrest,” said Fred Brown of CAN-DO. “I guess they are trying to sell us on the idea they are using the money according to the county criteria. But it’s not on the main street that will be impacted.”

Brown said his group would like to see the money used on Bloomingdale Avenue or at least closer to the project.

“We don’t want the money used in an area that isn’t even impacted by this development,” he said.

Using the money at Lithia-Pinecrest and Lumsden would be “diverting funds from where they said they would use the money,” Brown said.

Mark Nash, a community activist and former Hillsborough commission candidate from Lithia, said residents throughout the county should be worried if officials vote to use the money in an area not directly affected by the big-box project.

“The county staff can come out and have a public meeting and the public can get that Kumbaya feeling that the government is doing something for them, but it is the county commissioners that pull the strings behind the scene and steer the staff,” Nash said. “More than likely this will end up being a game of charades to make the public have the feeling the county is listening to them. Ultimately, this die is cast.”

Not so, Lyons said.

“We are going to show residents all of our projects in the area and that (Lumsden and Lithia-Pinecrest) intersection would be one of those.”

Other possibilities include improvements at Durant and South Valrico Road, Brooker and Bryan roads, Bloomingdale and Culbreath roads, Bloomingdale Avenue and Belle Shoals Road, and at Durant Road where it intersects with Mulrennan and Pearson.

He said the county staff has determined the Red Cast LLC project would have an effect as far away as three miles. “The county commission wanted to make sure we got community input” and that is what Tuesday’s meeting is about, he said.

The county approved a series of changes to its land development code that affect the site next to the library on Bloomingdale Avenue.

George Niemann, another officer with CAN-DO, previously has said when county officials made the changes in 2011, Bloomingdale residents didn’t realize the changes would affect the vacant 43 acres on Bloomingdale Avenue. Thus, the lawsuit.

The county and Red Cast are seeking dismissal of the lawsuit. A hearing on those motions is set for March 18.

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