By Melody Jameson
SUN CITY CENTER – In no uncertain terms, residents here have rejected another unrestricted access to their community.
In balloting last week, nearly 3,000 of the 11,000 retirees living in the age-restricted neighborhoods on both sides of S. R. 674 said “no way” by a near 90 percent margin to a proposed new entrance-exit arrangement connecting South Pebble Beach Boulevard and U.S. 301.
The final vote tally, when written referendum balloting ended February 23, was 2,669 opposed to an unrestricted access; 310 in favor of open roadway to and from the highway at the southeast corner of the community, according to Ed Barnes, SCC Community Association president.
The unmistakable expression of majority sentiment clears the way for formal change to the 50-year-old master planned community’s site plan that would close an ingress-egress at the development’s southeast boundary to all but emergency use. Efforts aimed at that objective were underway this week.
It was the third - as well as the most formal and widely considered – occasion that the sometimes contentious issue of a second south side entrance-exit has been raised in the last decade. In 2006, a “straw vote” aimed at taking the community’s pulse on the subject was conducted and a few years earlier another survey of opinion was taken. In both instances, the same result was indicated: no majority support for a second southside access.
This 2011 referendum, though, sends a resounding signal, Barnes noted. The community spoke in numbers far exceeding those racked up for the annual CA board elections, he said, defeating the new access proposal by more than 8.5 to 1. The 2,979 ballots cast represent a comparatively good turnout for the referendum, said the CA president who, like the CA board of directors, took no official position on the matter. He called the heavily tilted outcome “overwhelming.”
Barnes also said this week he has notified both representatives of current developer Minto Communities and Hillsborough’s county commissioners of the referendum vote strongly supporting emergency only access at the site in the community’s initial plans where a new ingress-egress was penciled in years ago.
He added he now anticipates the formal site plan change process to proceed unimpeded through the pertinent departments and eventually to reach Hillsborough’s Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) for approval. When the matter comes to BOCC attention, “we’ll be there to support it,” he asserted.
And necessary preparations for that objective were undertaken this week. The submittal package required for consideration of the Minto petition for modification of the community site plan is being assembled, Bill Bullock, the developer’s regional vice president, said Monday.
It is the second time such a submittal is being prepared by Minto which initiated the site plan change process late last year and then withdrew its petition when objections were voiced by southside residents. At that time, Minto executives said they were relying on several written requests for the modification that would essentially close out the old community entrance from U.S. 301 that had been noted on the early site plan. Upon the petition withdrawal, they said they would be guided by a majority community view.
Subsequently, a heavily-attended community town hall meeting, including both county planning professionals and Hillsborough Sheriff’s office personnel along with local leaders, aired various aspects of the subject. Supporters of open access suggested such an ingress-egress would give southside residents in particular more opportunity for easier transportation north and south on U.S. 301. Some said they purchased their homes with expectation of the new entrance. Opponents, on the other hand, voiced concerns about South Pebble Beach becoming a shortcut for non-residents as well as about increased vulnerability to crime and more vehicular traffic competing with golf carts. Law enforcement officers emphasized public safety issues.
Bullock said this week the Minto submittal, buoyed by the strong mandate from the community for emergency access only at the site designated in the site plan, will be in process in about 30 days. The matter should be resolved in 90 to 120 days, he added, and one more Minto community responsibility discharged.
As Sun City Center’s last developer, the company carries an obligation to leave the community as financially whole as possible when it completes build-out anticipated later in this decade, Bullock said. Consequently, he noted, the developer will be working in the near future on other issues of wide community impact, including the beautification of S.R. 674 through the community.
Meanwhile, Barnes agreed that the southside access issue now should be laid to rest.
Copyright 2011 Melody Jameson