By KEVIN BRADY
Brandon area residents battling a proposed big-box store on Bloomingdale Avenue are considering taking their fight to court after meeting with the project’s developer amid new concerns over an apartment complex planned for the property.
The issue has galvanized locals like few issues have in recent years, with more than 1,300 signing an online petition opposing the project and hundreds turning out for meetings with county officials.
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 property at Bloomingdale and Lithia Pinecrest Road. 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.
Home to some of Brandon’s most exclusive neighborhoods and expensive homes, locals fear they will end up with a 24-hour Super Walmart on the site, something the area doesn’t need, they say.
The proposed development, which will neighbor Bloomingdale Regional Library and Bloomingdale High School, will not only depress property values but also add to traffic in an area notorious for bumper-to-bumper congestion during the morning and afternoon rush hour, say residents.
“If this big box store is built it would make already horrendous traffic even worse and further endanger the students who walk to Bloomingdale High School,” said Cheryl Hinzdil, who has lived in Bloomingdale for 15 years.
“I really don’t feel like watching my property value go down even more that it already has, plus I rather enjoy living in a community with little crime. We have everything we need in the area and don’t need yet another big-box store, especially since we have numerous super-centers within 5 miles. Why not try to develop buildings that are already there but vacant?”
The developer and representatives of the Coordinated Active Neighborhoods Development Organization (CAN-DO), a local group that has mobilized homeowners against the project, met quietly June 28. The developer had asked that the meeting with seven members of CANDO’s steering committee remain private.
Redstone’s representatives wouldn’t reveal what store would anchor the mall at the meeting.
“But they told us ‘we don’t want you thinking it’s not going to be a Walmart’,” said Dan Grant, who attended the meeting.
The developer told CAN-DO the company will look at installing a berm at the rear of the property in an effort to mitigate noise and light for residents of the neighboring Lithia Oaks community.
Addressing concerns over increased traffic in the area, Redstone representatives at the meeting pointed out the company would be paying a portion of any roadway improvements associated with the development.
“But it’s pretty obvious to everyone that whatever they pay will not help with the traffic,” Grant said.
“We appreciate that they met with us but we didn’t walk away with anything new. We are now looking at all the options we have including legal (challenges),” Grant said.
The meeting came after the county attorney told commissioners they risked a lawsuit if they tried to delay the project. Commissioner Al Higginbotham, whose district includes Brandon and much of South County, had been pressuring the developer to meet with the group.
The developer’s plan for the property, 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 super store like Walmart. Winthrop has been praised for its pedestrian-friendly design and mix of commercial and civic uses with the large anchor store, Publix, sharing frontage with smaller specialty stores.
The 261-unit apartment complex proposed for the property, which could be as high as six stories, is also raising hackles among locals. Featuring mostly one-bedroom units, the apartments don’t suit the area, opponents say.
The apartments don’t “fit the demographics for that area,” said Claire Letkiewicz. “It should be mostly two- and three-bedrooms when near a school area, especially with the number of short-sale and foreclosures occurring in the area.”