By MELODY JAMESON
SUN CITY CENTER – Should free-flowing, two-way, non-emergency vehicular traffic be allowed between South Pebble Beach Boulevard and U.S. 301?
If so, who is going to pay for the necessary improvements?
Would such a new connection between the south side of the community and the widened U.S. highway encourage shortcutting through it by non-residents or open the figurative door to increased crime within it?
These questions and more are to be aired during a town hall meeting scheduled for 7 PM, Thursday, January 20, in Community Hall, South Pebble Beach.
The issues have been raised time and again since development of the south side of the community was undertaken more than two decades back. Opponents stand firm for maintenance of the existing construction roadway as an emergency ingress-egress only while proponents point to the fact such an opening to the community from the federal highway appears on the community’s early site plans.
And the matter surfaced again a few months ago when Minto Communities, the new developer, petitioned Hillsborough County for approval of a change to the guiding site development plan which would restrict the locked entrance near the highway to emergency uses only.
At the time the petition was drafted, it was Minto’s understanding this was the will of a majority of the community, Bill Bullock, regional vice president, told The Observer this week. The developer had received several letters from residents, he added, expressing concerns that if the opening became unrestricted the results would include increased truck traffic on South Pebble Beach, a rise in opportunistic crime as access to the community was more easily gained and use of South Pebble Beach as a shortcut by drivers coming from the west heading to areas along U.S. 301 south of S.R. 674 as well as in reverse by drivers headed toward Ruskin but wishing to avoid traffic controls in the U.S. 301/S.R. 674 intersection.
Added to these factors was the traffic analysis conducted by former developer WCI when Minto was considering purchase of WCI property which showed that from a traffic management perspective such an ingress-egress would not be required at build-out density, Bullock said.
Consequently, Minto, being a “go ahead and get it done” kind of company inclined to “close open-ended items,” moved to set the emergency only designation of the U.S. 301 entrance in the site plan, the executive noted. The company, however, subsequently withdrew its petition to modify the development plan in this manner.
Unlike the Minto letter writers, Paul Courter, a 10-year resident on Platinum Drive, embraces the unrestricted south side opening to U.S. 301 as an enhancement of the quality of life here. It would represent a convenience for those headed north to shopping around the S.R. 674 intersection or south to the Ellenton-Bradenton-Sarasota areas, he said. Plus, when he bought his home, the plat maps he examined showed the U.S. 301 entrance which was a consideration in the purchase, he indicated.
In addition, Courter noted “I don’t want to be locked in” in the case of any natural disaster such as a direct-strike hurricane. “It (the currently restricted opening) feels like a wall blocking me,” he said, “I want to be able to come and go.”
As for the increased crime potential, Courter said he doesn’t believe there’s any more in SCC than in other similar communities, adding “there is no way to insulate yourself completely.”
Moreover, if a natural disaster such as a hurricane were to strike, he said he doesn’t believe opening the gate to the highway would be authority’s first priority.
Another south sider, Paul Wheat, strongly supports maintaining the existing construction track to U.S. 301 for use by the community at large on an emergency basis only. One big reason is money. “Exactly who,” Wheat, a former SCC CA president, asks rhetorically, “is going to pay” for all of the improvements necessary to create an acceptable ingress-egress at the point the construction road reaches the federal highway?
In the foreseeable future, U.S. 301 is going to be widened from the current two lanes at that point to four lanes and the roadway may become an even more heavily used alternative to I-75, he indicated. A free-flowing entrance into SCC at that point would require additional turning lanes plus either traffic controlling signage or lighted signalization. Such expense would be on top of the costs of finishing the roadway inside SCC and adding whatever else might be necessary for basic traffic safety on the internal road.
Wheat said he has seen no signs that either the SCC Community Association or Minto or ClubLink, new owner of the community’s golf courses which also has an ownership interest in the property around the ingress-egress site, would be comfortable assuming the level of outlay that would be required.
Ed Barnes, current SCC CA president recently elected to a second term as a director as well as a south side homeowner, said this week he is taking no position, either pro or con, on any of the issues related to the ingress-egress beyond his conviction that it is up to the CA membership to make the final decision.
Following the January 20 town hall meeting, he said he expects a CA election on an open-or-close-to- U.S. 301 referendum to be conducted in early to mid-February.
Both Minto executives and representatives from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s office have been invited to the town hall meeting and both have indicated intentions to take part in the discussions. The HCSO historically has not favored any unrestricted opening to the community on the south side based on public safety concerns. Minto, Bullock indicated, is interested in the community’s sentiment on the issues.
Copyright 2010 Melody Jameson