Charter school public hearing is finally here

After months of delay, a public hearing on a proposed charter school at the southwest corner of Lutz Lake Fern and Sunlake Boulevard is slated for the evening of March 16.

The proposed Sunlake Academy has faced stiff opposition throughout the process from residents who live near the proposed school that would be built on a 7.4-acre site, as well as objections from area homeowner associations, the Lutz Citizens Coalition, the Lutz Civic Association and the GFWC Lutz-Land O’ Lakes Woman’s Clubs.

Pat and Joe Serio, who live next to the proposed Sunlake Academy, are adamantly opposed to the school, which they say would ruin the quiet enjoyment of their property. (B.C. Manion/Staff Photo)

Pat and Joe Serio, who live next to the proposed Sunlake Academy, are adamantly opposed to the school, which they say would ruin the quiet enjoyment of their property.
(B.C. Manion/Staff Photo)

Since its initial application, Charter Schools Inc., has reduced the number of students who would attend the school. The applicant also has substantially increased its proposed buffering and agreed to transportation improvements.

As the application stands now, the school would allow up to 870 kindergarten through eighth grade students, over two phases.

Changes made by the applicant don’t satisfy Pat and Joe Serio, whose property abuts the proposed school.

“We are absolutely opposed,” Pat Serio said.

Joe Serio said that he objects not only to the proposed charter school, but also to the entire process being used to consider the request.

“I look at it, at the special application, as an end-run around the zoning regulations,” Joe Serio said.

The Hillsborough County Commission adopted the Lutz Community Plan and the North Dale Mabry Corridor Plan, he said. “Now, they’re just abandoning them. They’re making a mockery of the whole process. The citizens worked hard on that,” he said.

With special use applications, a land-use hearing officer makes the final decision on a request, instead of the Hillsborough County Commission.

“We feel that we’re Ground Zero here. It is literally our backyard,” she said.

“The traffic plan doesn’t take into consideration what’s going to happen once people begin to realize the Sunlake (Boulevard) is open to Route (State Road) 54 and start using it,” Joe Serio said.

Traffic is already backing up on Lutz Lake Fern Road, as people wait to turn left to get onto Sunlake Boulevard to head over to State Road 54, he said.

The couple is also concerned about potential flooding, fumes from car emissions and noise from children playing outdoors.

“The whole process seems very tilted toward developers,” Pat Serio said.

Mike White, president and founder of the Lutz Citizens Coalition, said the coalition remains opposed to the proposed school.

“It is not an appropriate transitional use,” White said. “It’s not transitional, due to the density,” he said.

Too many cars will be coming and going at peak hours, White said, adding a more appropriate use would be one which spreads the traffic throughout the business day.

Michael Horner, a professional planner representing the applicant, said in an email that his client has “worked diligently to address any and all concerns expressed by staff and the HOA/neighbors, including over a half-million dollars of roadway and other improvements, turn lanes, signal modifications, etc.”

Additionally, as a condition of approval, the applicant has agreed to spend close to $50,000 to extend a 6-foot wall across the entire western property boundary, according to Horner.

Significant setbacks and landscaping buffer are proposed as well — 10 times the buffer required by the county’s land development code, Horner added.

“Bottom line, this school is a very appropriate land use for this property,” Horner said, noting it is supported by the county’s long-range plan and land development code.

Sunlake Academy public hearing
March 16, 6 p.m.

Second floor board chambers at the Fred B. Karl County Center, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd., in Tampa

Published March 11, 2015

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