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Cruisin' down the highway on a Sunday afternoon

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RIVERVIEW- “They’ve brought the city to us,” my 12-year old passenger announced as we attempted to exit Summerfield, where we’ve lived since January 2003. While stopped in the long lines of backed-up traffic that exist not only during workday rush hours but increasingly at other times– like 2:45 last Sunday afternoon – I realized that while the area still can’t be classified as a “city” it certainly appears to be one when viewed during a drive along U.S. 301. 

“Remember when we had to go to Apollo Beach to buy food?” she asked.

Of course I remembered. I was the one who had to drive it, and I was now wondering just how far back into her car seat days her memories actually went.

Just five years ago people living in the Summerfield area had three choices for grocery shopping: Apollo Beach, Riverview Plaza, or Sun City Center. A Chevron gas station/convenience store had been built on the corner of Summerfield Boulevard and Big Bend Road (inside the development) and soon after that, It’s Kidz Time day care went in, but that was pretty much all that existed in what is now a booming plaza located at an intersection that finally, after many traffic accidents, warranted its own traffic light four years ago.

Sitting there facing west on Big Bend Road, I realized just how much has happened there in the last few years and I decided it might be interesting to check with some people who have lived there longer than I.

Later that day I spoke with Diana Finch, who’s been a Summerfield resident for 22 years. “We used to go to Brandon to shop because I didn’t find the (grocery) store in Riverview up to the standards of what I was used to in Illinois,” she told me. “And we had all our prescriptions filled at Walgreens in Valrico, which was the one to us closest then.”

Diana remembers the opening of the Summerfield Publix well because it was just a few weeks before the death of her husband in 2005. “He and I got to shop there together one time,” she told me. Having been recording secretary for Summerfield’s Board of Directors and newsletter editor for more than 15 years, Diana knows a lot about the community. And she knew exactly who to send me to when I asked her about the very first residents.

Jeff Pollard occupied the 12th house built in Summerfield and was on its founding board. He insists the name of the development never legally changed from Summerfield to Summerfield Crossings, as many call it now.

“All the documents say “Summerfield,” Jeff told me. (I checked mine, and that’s exactly how it reads.) “But one of the developers decided to add ‘Crossings’ to some of the signs on his own,” he said.

Diana told me a different story; that “Crossings” was added because originally Summerfield was designed to be self-contained, like a town, with its own U.S. Post Office, but since there was already a town in Florida called Summerfield with a zip code, the word “Crossings” was added.

Maybe I’ll dig into that some more for a future column. Right now, any more history would be too much regression for a story about the area’s recent progress.

Back in my car on Sunday afternoon with the granddaughter who has lived with me for almost all of her 12-years, I noticed some changes I hadn’t slowed down enough to see before.

Summerfield Plaza, on the northeast side of the Big Bend Road/U.S. 301 intersection, is now connected to a configuration of brand new office and retail space that houses not only one, but two women’s specialty centers, two dental offices, a branch office of Primary Care of Tampa Bay, and Pediatric Health Care Alliance, all the kinds of services we had to drive to Brandon for just a few months- not years- ago. And that’s just the beginning because most of the offices are still vacant and sporting “for rent” signs out front.

For the first time I noticed a road connecting those new office and retail spaces with the outer edges of Summerfield’s Town Estates (spelled “Towne” on the front and “Town” on its back gates). This road is called Summerfield Crossings Boulevard- not to be confused with Summerfield Boulevard, which is the name of the street where the Chevron station and traffic signal (farther east in the development) exist. More medical offices and stores and restaurants now exist just north of the intersection on the west side of U.S. 301 as well.

Once I could make my way out of the traffic I drove onto the new road between the new office plaza and Publix and found it winds behind the new Beal’s department store, which allows a back entrance into McDonalds and an extra exit onto northbound U.S. 301.

I circled around to reexamine the intersection I thought I knew so well. Somewhere in the helter-skelter of making my way through it every day, there were many details I had missed. Oh- I knew the Walgreens drug store and Burger King had just recently opened on the southwest corner of the intersection, but I hadn’t realized the parking lot and landscaping had been completed behind them for the area that will soon house the new Sam’s Club.

And wait, was that a bicycle path stretching along the entire east side of the new lanes being built on U.S. 301? Eventually, I managed to turn around again so I could find out.

“Where are we going?” my 12-year-old passenger asked.

She knows I usually don't make any stops that aren’t on “my side” of the road. If she asks for McDonalds and we aren’t going North, she knows the answer is going to be no because sometimes, crossing U.S. 301 between Big Bend Road and Gibsonton Drive can be as dangerous as surfing in a hurricane.

But now I had my camera out, so she knew the rules had changed.

For some reason (probably unknown to children not related to news reporters) when the camera comes out, even someone who’s usually nervous about crossing certain intersections can be known to abruptly pull up over a curb, stop, get out and walk into the middle of a busy six-lane road and stand on whatever is available and start shooting photographs, which is exactly what I did then.

I was amazed. Not only had a bicycle path been laid (and paved!) but streetlights were positioned all along the east side of U.S. 301 from Big Bend Road to Symmes Road, and it looked (from the piles of culverts and cement) like this was about to continue on to Gibsonton Drive.

I pulled over at Symmes and got out again. Across the road, the red-barnlike Basket Produce market and a few horses and cows still attested to the once rural nature of the area. But from where I was standing, I could see huge pumps at work pulling rainwater down into cement pipes a five-foot-tall person could have stood inside without bending down and it appeared the countryside was disappearing every bit as fast as the water.

A relatively new thick stone median on (the east side of) Symmes permitted me to turn around and head back south again along U.S. 301, this time noticing all the changes on the west side of the road.

The intersection where Panther Trace (one development north of Summerfield on the east side of U.S. 301) and South Pointe (on the west side) meet now has a traffic signal and new turn lanes.

I also (later) discovered a new way to turn into the (no-name) plaza where a line of restaurants including the Village Inn, Sonic and Applebees front Big Bend Road.

I later found this new place to turn-in was built as part of the Walgreens, Burger King, and Sam’s Club project being developed by DeBartolo. Prior to the addition of this road people had to enter this plaza by Lincoln Road, which Hillsborough County Public Works Department reported six months ago was slated (eventually) to get a traffic signal.

Before arriving home, I discovered yet another relief for those of us who are often trapped in traffic at the Big Bend/ U.S. 301 intersection at rush hour. County trucks are not only pouring gravel, but filling in the tremendous potholes on what was once the (north-south) dirt road connecting Summerfield Boulevard with the main drag of the development immediately to its south, South Fork. Now there’s a choice: we can get to U.S. 301 by taking that road to Ambleside Boulevard and hitting U.S. 301 about a half mile farther south where the traffic isn’t as bad; but if you’re going to travel south you’d better be ready to cross the highway without the aid of a traffic signal. It works beautifully if you’re going north though. I tried it Sunday.

When what has been started is completed, we who once thought we lived in the country may just have all the conveniences of city living nearby.

A proposed referendum asking for a penny increase in the county’s sales tax- from 7 to 8 cents- will determine if some new South County projects can go through, but meanwhile, there’s plenty going on and the traffic on U.S. 301 is usually slow-moving enough to get a good look and maybe even a photograph or two.



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