By KEVIN BRADY
They wanted Riverview’s Winthrop Town Center but Brandon-area residents fear a new development in their backyard will end being just another anonymous suburban sprawl eyesore bringing traffic migraines and lowering property values.
Now County Commissioner Al Higginbotham is asking a developer to listen to resident’s concerns over the proposed development slated for Bloomingdale Avenue and Lithia Pinecrest Road.
Residents say they want the project stopped and while they are glad to talk to the developer, they have also retained their own attorney to research grounds for a lawsuit should the development proceed.
“If the developer declines to meet with the community and address our concerns there will be a lawsuit,” said Dan Grant, a member of Coordinated Active Neighborhoods Development Organization (CAN-DO). The group has mobilized hundreds of homeowners against the project.
Commissioners voted June 11 to ask the county attorney to research delaying approval for the project for up to six months. The vote came on the heels of a meeting the night before where Commissioner Higginbotham got an “earful” from more than 400 “furious” residents.
“I am not trying to shut down a project but it is a 180-window where they can review,” said Higginbotham who cautioned against “false hope” during the review.
The extra time would allow commissioners to make sure “we got this right, and there’s enough indication from the community, from (commissioners), including myself, did we get an accurate picture of what is going in on that site?” said Higginbotham.
Commissioner Ken Hagan said he was “fed up” with the developers.
“I believe this developer has operated in bad faith. I have never heard of a situation where a developer has refused to meet with the community and anything we can do to hold their feet to the fire I 100 percent support.”
“The 180-day delay would be a good thing. It gives us time to mobilize,” said Grant who expects to enlist more than 1,000 homeowners from Riverhills, Bloomingdale and Mason Oaks, to the campaign in coming weeks as the issue gains more publicity.
“Everywhere we go people ask the same thing: ‘What is the reason for this development?’ There is no good reason.”
The owner of the 43-acre plot, Redstone Properties, plans a 158,800-square-feet shopping center, three restaurants, a bank, 261 apartments and another 6,000-square-foot retail center on the land, according to papers submitted to the county earlier this year. Blueprints call for one entrance to the shopping center on Lithia Pinecrest with two on Bloomingdale, one of which, at Blowing Oak Street, would have a traffic light.
Residents say the plan would only worsen congestion in an area already notorious for bumper to bumper traffic with Bloomingdale Regional Library and Bloomingdale High School within a stone’s throw of the proposed development.
“This will reduce the home values and increase traffic around a high school that houses over 3,000 of the local children of which two thirds drive to school,” said Scott McFee. “There are two other elementary schools in adjacent neighborhoods and Bloomingdale is the major corridor for children going to Burns Middle School.”
Citing nearby supermarkets and existing commercial space in the area, Kim Hauser said the area also doesn’t need more high-density housing.
“There’s no way this part of Bloomingdale Avenue can handle a high density housing complex. Look at how bad traffic is on Bell Shoals and Lithia roads. We need a park, not another Walmart Super Store.”
The developer’s plan, which meets the requirements of the county’s Land Development Code, was approved Feb. 28, however, commissioners said that plan called for a development more akin to Riverview’s Winthrop Town Centre not a shopping center dominated by a Walmart. Winthrop has been praised for its mix of commercial and civic uses with the large anchor store, Publix, sharing frontage with smaller specialty stores.
While frustrated they were not being listened to in the past, Grant said residents now appear to have the ear of county commissioners.
“Listening is the first step. Now we need action.”
A recommendation from the county attorney on the legality of delaying county approval for the project is expected later.