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Thursday, Jun 21, 2018
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Residents push back against development in rural Lithia

LITHIA — Not long after folks began moving out to FishHawk Ranch, when large swaths of this rural area were converted into sprawling subdivisions in the late 1990s, they began experiencing traffic backups on Lithia-Pinecrest Road.

Through the years, as development continued, traffic on the once-rural two-lane road increased even more, jamming up daily at peak times and prompting Hillsborough County to designate it as a failed roadway.

Still, development continued.

Now, a developer is asking the county to amend its Comprehensive Plan to allow construction of 77 homes on what is currently a cow pasture east of one of those subdivisions — FishHawk Trails. But residents already living out that way are pushing back.

A group calling itself “Save Rural Lithia” sent a rash of emails to The Planning Commission opposing a change in the land-use designation on the 194-acre tract. Initially, the developer asked for a designation that would allow one house per acre, up from one house per five acres.

The Planning Commission staff reached a compromise, agreeing to one house for every 2.5 acres, then recommended approval of the Comprehensive Plan Amendment. But the push-back from residents in the surrounding area prompted the Planning Commission to recommend against the change. It is that recommendation that goes to the county commission.

“We were trying to find a middle ground, since the property is on the fringe of the Urban Service Area,” said Planner Krista Kelly, with the Planning Commission. “But there was huge opposition from the surrounding community. The people in FishHawk wanted no more traffic on Lithia-Pinecrest.”

The Hillsborough County Commission will take up the proposed amendment during a workshop Oct. 17.

The resident opposition will get some support from a group called CAN-DO that is fighting a big box warehouse store further northwest on Bloomingdale Avenue, near Lithia-Pinecrest.

“This goes into exactly our whole fight about what the county is doing to our community out in Brandon,” said Fred Brown, a spokesman for CAN-DO, which has announced plans to sue the county for allowing a big box store, widely thought to be a Walmart, to come in next to the Bloomingdale Regional Library. “They are jamming in stuff so that it makes it a nightmare just to move around, not realizing the impact it is going to have on the community and our way of living.”

Brown said it is already a headache for residents living off of Lithia-Pinecrest just to try to get out of their subdivisions. “They don’t even come out and survey the area to see what the impact will be,” he said of the county. “It’s not sensible.”

And then there were the emails that went to the Planning Commission.

“Since moving here in 2005 we have seen the continued development of this area with no increase in the roadways to accommodate the additional traffic,” wrote Ed and Barbara Keen of FishHawk Trails. “Many mornings it is very difficult to gain access to Lithia-Pinecrest Road because of the excessive cars traveling north in the morning. This new development will only make the traffic situation worse.”

“It is time to send a clear message to developers, purchase pasture land at your own risk,” wrote Dave Couvertier, of FishHawk Trails. “The Urban Service Area is not to be expanded until other areas are built out.”

“Why must every beautiful piece of pastoral land left in Lithia/Pinecrest be developed?” wrote Jill Mason, a teacher at a FishHawk area school. “As of a few months ago, new-home construction around our school has finally begun and we are already overcrowded. This new dense home construction, along with current construction in FishHawk Ranch’s Starling development, clearly confirms that there is enough new home construction in our part of the county!”

The 1:30 p.m. workshop on this amendment will take place at the County Center, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa.

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