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Hillsborough considers borrow pit with future subdivision

THONOTOSASSA — A developer wanting to excavate tons of dirt for road construction and other work might get around a requirement to build a 500-foot buffer between the excavation site and a nearby subdivision.

The developer’s proposal breaks the project into two phases. The first phase, which Hillsborough County officials are reviewing, entails excavating 900,000 cubic yards of dirt on the property at the northwest corner of County Road 579 and Joe Ebert Road. The dirt would be used in projects such as improvements to Gandy Bridge and the expansion of Interstate 275.

Before seeking a county permit for the second phase, which involves removing an additional 500,000 cubic yards of dirt, Graceland LLC is requesting approval of a subdivision it plans to build on the land once the digging stops. If county officials support Graceland’s request for the subdivision, it would not have to build the 500-foot buffer.

Some area residents who oppose Graceland’s proposal — as they have many of the 25 other approved borrow pits within a five-mile radius of the property — are skeptical the subdivision ultimately would be built and say county officials can’t guarantee it.

The proposal to convert this excavation pit into a neighborhood sounds, to many, superior to leaving a hole in the ground. But it is something of an empty promise, said Terry Flott, director of the Seffner Community Alliance and Hillsborough County U-CAN, or United Citizens Action Network.

“It is really lulling those people (in the community) into a false sense of security because I don’t know of anything that says this can’t be changed afterward,” Flott said. “There is nothing sure other than it is being rezoned. I don’t see anything in there to hold their feet to the fire.”

Zoning Hearing Master Steve Luce, on Dec. 16, heard plans to rezone the property, the first step toward an approved subdivision. He is expected to render his recommendation to the Hillsborough County Commission on Jan. 8.

Graceland attorney Judith James presented the rezoning request to Luce, saying her client wants to build homes on 38 one-acre lots on the 89-acre parcel.

Every borrow pit has to have a reclamation plan, according to Hillsborough rules, but the county requires only that the excavators properly slope the property for safety.

There is no added requirement that a borrow pit be converted into something other than what it is. And in this case, even if the subdivision plan is approved and the requirement for a 500-foot buffer is eliminated, the county does not require it to be developed within a particular time period. “The timing of subdivision development is not regulated by the condition,” county Planner Brian Grady wrote in an email to The Tampa Tribune.

The developer agrees to conditions that coincide with the approval of the proposed subdivision, James told Luce during the Dec. 16 hearing. Those include:

• Identifying and working around large oak trees on the property.

• Agreeing there will be no modular homes.

• Agreeing to place a 100-foot buffer between the development and Joe Ebert Road, along with a six-foot fence and a row of oak trees and preserved trees along that roadway.

• There will be a 75-foot buffer between County Road 579 and the site.

• Access to the property will be only from County Road 579.

The county commission will receive Luce’s recommendation and is expected to make a ruling on the rezoning request Feb. 11.

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