By MELODY JAMESON
APOLLO BEACH – Proposed development of more professional office space here has riled some area residents to resistance.
Hillsborough County staff in several departments raised no objections to the prospective project surrounded by large residential neighborhoods, but homeowners in those neighborhoods are asking a number of questions and posing numerous potential obstacles.
Their concern began to jell into organized opposition when they learned of rezoning of part of the site, an action taken quietly, they contend, without sufficient notice to the affected communities.
The situation dates back to a rezoning in July of about a half acre of land on the south side of Miller Mac Road, once the location of the Apollo Beach Rescue Squad. The rectangular structure subsequently has housed several business entities and currently is vacant.
Reclassification of the site from AR, agricultural rural, to CN or commercial neighborhood was approved by Hillsborough’s Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) in early August, based on reports from supportive Planning and Growth Management (P&GM) Department staff.
According to county property records, the site, along with two additional adjoining parcels also up for rezoning, is held by Sam Reiber as a trustee. P&GM records show Reiber being represented in the rezoning effort by Todd Pressman, a Clearwater consultant.
At the time of the initial rezoning, planning staff recommended approval of the reclassification. The recommendation came, however, with several restrictions in the form of prohibited business establishments. Such enterprises as convenience stores, dry cleaners, self-service laundries, taverns, liquor stores, printing services, motor vehicle repair, small engine repair, farm and garden equipment, temporary labor pools, recreational vehicle sales or rentals and sign painting all were excluded from the site.
The staff also recommended approval of a waiver because the site does not meet “locational criteria,” being situated nearly 1,500 feet from the Miller Mac-U.S. 41 intersection and exceeding the maximum distance allowed of 900 feet. According to the staff report, this recommendation was based on existence of a commercial building on the property and of the Tampa Electric Company substation “which serves to limit any additional extension of a commercial use along Miller Mac Road.”
Planning staff asserted, too, in its report that the proposed development site is less than 600 feet from existing commercial uses around the Miller Mac-U.S. 41 intersection and from property already zoned for commercial uses.
Area residents are not buying it. All of it has left a bad taste in the mouths of residents like Bruce Davis, Doug Hardy, “Dori” Hjaltason and Andy Hornick. The retired or semi-retired four are homeowners on the northern side of SouthShore Falls, a gated age-restricted community backing up to the proposed development site. And, their distaste has motivated a signature petition campaign generating more than 300 signers-on from both SouthShore Falls to the south as well as from Apollo Beach to the north, Davis said.
In addition, the opposition forces are gearing up for a community wide meeting scheduled for 11 a.m., Saturday, September 11, in the SouthShore Falls clubhouse, plus planning for an en masse appearance at a forthcoming zoning change hearing scheduled for September 20 in Tampa.
Their focus is on two more parcels of land abutting Miller Mac Road immediately west of the former volunteer fire department headquarters and now subjects of a rezoning application also seeking commercial use classifications. One is a sliver of land constituting approximately a quarter acre parallel with the west side of the now-vacant building. The second is an irregularly shaped 2.09 acres behind and along the west side of the existing Tampa Electric Company power station. Together, the two parcels surround the utility site on three sides. All told, the three parcels – one rezoned, two under consideration – total slightly less than three acres.
Both parcels currently are zoned AR or agricultural rural. The application seeks rezoning the smaller piece to a CG/R or a general commercial use with restrictions and designation of the larger for BPO/R or for a business professional office use with restrictions.
Reiber is listed as trustee for both parcels in the Hillsborough Property Appraiser’s records and he is represented again in the upcoming rezoning by Pressman, said Isabelle Albert, a P&GM planner overseeing the rezoning procedure.
None of the reviewing agencies have raised any objections to the proposed rezoning and subsequent redevelopment. P&GM staff has found them “consistent and compatible with the emerging pattern of development in the area,” their report noted. The same use restrictions were imposed on the smaller parcel and for the larger property, planners restricted development closer to Miller Mac and further from the back side of the parcel.
The concerned residents, however, have a list of objections they believe the planners overlooked. What has been overlooked imperils AB residents, SouthShore retirees as well as animal life, they emphasize.
Among the resident objections is lack of protections for the wetlands and wildlife habitat bordering the proposed development site both east and west, Hjaltason points out.
Another consideration, Davis says, is the fact that SouthShore homeowners bordering the southern edge of the development site paid $30,000 premiums added to their property costs for a promised conservation area between their backyards and the proposed project. Those homeowners did not pay for or bargain for an office complex instead, he adds.
Then, there’s the unknown specific use planned by the developer of the site, Davis adds. “They (planners) tell us what businesses cannot be conducted on part of the property, but not what will be permitted on most of it, other than a business or professional office,” he notes.
What’s more, Davis adds, if it is to be this type of use, “there’s a glut of such space in the area.” For examples, he cites the multiple empty buildings at Mira Bay Villages to the south and the never-occupied, three-year-old strip center at Kings Lake on Big Bend Road to the north, plus the empty units along Apollo Beach Boulevard.
Not to mention, Davis continues, the wisdom of allowing a high traffic business center in the middle of residential neighborhoods, a number of them populated with children.
Yet another issue involves two-lane Miller Mac Road, at both its west and eastern terminations. Local residents east bound on Miller Mac from inside the adjacent residential communities could run into traffic trying to enter the business center and the additional traffic generated by the center will be forced to join the daily congestion on Miller Mac at U.S. 41. “There are accidents there all the time,” Davis asserts.
And, alarmed by a notice procedure to surrounding property owners that may have been legal but actually failed to advise the communities, the resident group this week began talking about involving an attorney to ensure their rights are protected.
The rezoning consultant and representative did not respond to an attempt by The Observer to discuss the matter.
Copyright 2010 Melody Jameson