Charter school faces opposition

Opposition is heating up against a proposed charter school for up to 1,050 elementary students in Lutz.

Charter Schools Inc., of Boca Raton is seeking permission from Hillsborough County to allow a school for students in kindergarten through eighth grade at the southwest corner of Lutz Lake Fern Road and Sunlake Boulevard.

Residents living near a proposed private charter school in Lutz say the project would create even more traffic problems on already congested roads near the school. (File Photo)

Residents living near a proposed private charter school in Lutz say the project would create even more traffic problems on already congested roads near the school.
(File Photo)

The operator of the school would be Charter Schools Association of Coral Gables, according to the application filed with Hillsborough County.

The proposed Sunlake Academy would operate on 7.46 acres, according to Michael Horner, the applicant’s representative. A 1-acre outparcel at the site represents a potential child care center in the future that is already permitted by existing zoning, Horner said in an email.

A public hearing — initially set for Dec. 15, then delayed until Jan. 20 — has been delayed again, this time until Feb. 16 at 6 p.m.

Horner said the delay for the hearing was needed because the county requested additional traffic information, which has been completed but not yet reviewed by county staff.

Horner noted that the applicant has submitted a revised site plan that includes a number of changes, including a larger buffer area and setback from residential lots to the west of the proposed school, double tree plantings, fencing and extensive left-turn lane improvements at both entrances, in response to the county’s mandate for no direct left turns into either entrance.

The proposal now includes only U-turns at the intersection, as well as dedicated right turn lanes on both Sunlake Boulevard and Lutz Lake Fern Road.

It’s not clear whether the proposed changes will make a difference to opponents to the school, who have made it known that they are concerned about traffic congestion, potential flooding issues and negative impacts to their quality of life, as well as property values.

Opponents are planning to have an informational meeting about the proposed charter school on Jan. 8 at 7 p.m., at the J.F. Swartsel Masonic Lodge, 3109 Lutz Lake Fern Road.

The application for the project shows for two phases.

The first phase includes a two-story building with 33 classrooms, and the second phase calls for a two-story building with 20 classrooms.

The plans also show a storm water pond, a playground, and areas for parking for both vehicles and bicycles. Plans also call for basketball courts.

Records submitted to Hillsborough County show that residents, area homeowner associations, The Lutz Citizens Coalition and the GFWC Lutz-Land O’ Lakes Woman’s Club oppose the request.

Todd Caroline, who lives in Lake Fern Villa, notes that the project would back up to his property line.

“It is already a struggle to get out of our community morning, afternoon and evening due to a poorly built intersection at Lutz Lake Fern Road and Sunlake (Boulevard). Ever since Steinbrenner (High School), Martinez (Middle School) and McKitrick (Elementary School) have opened, it has only gotten worse,” Caroline wrote in a Dec. 23 email to Hillsborough County staff.

James Lather, another opponent, said the Lutz Citizens Coalition vehemently opposes the application because of the inappropriate size, scope and density of the project for the proposed location.

Area resident Joanne Plazza noted that she’s lived in the area since 1987 and has never objected to any previous project. But, she said, this school would add traffic to an already congested area.

Opponent Sharon Bard, of 22232 Yachtclub Terrace, put it like this: “I am very much against this. I travel Lutz Lake Fern often and the added traffic would be horrific.”

Mike White, president and founder of the Lutz Citizens Coalition, said the school is being proposed in an inappropriate location.

Both Sunlake and Lutz Lake Fern are two lane roads and are not equipped to handle the additional traffic this project would generate, White said.

Published January 7, 2015

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