Competing interests at Sunlake and Lutz Lake Fern

James Scarola is deliberating the future of a parcel at the southwest corner of Lutz Lake Fern Road and Sunlake Boulevard.

Applicants for a special use permit want to use a 7.4-acre parcel to become the new home of the Tampa Academy of Math and Science, a charter school specializing in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Ruth Gimpel Stables is next door to a proposed charter school in Lutz. Ruth Gimpel said the proposed school could destroy her livelihood. (B.C. Manion/Staff Photo)

Ruth Gimpel Stables is next door to a proposed charter school in Lutz. Ruth Gimpel said the proposed school could destroy her livelihood.
(B.C. Manion/Staff Photo)

Ruth Gimpel, who owns a horse stable next door, wants Scarola to deny the request.

So do residents living west of the proposed school.

A number of organizations also have weighed in against the proposed school, including area homeowner associations, the Lutz Citizens Coalition, the Lutz Civic Association and the GFWC Lutz-Land O’ Lakes Woman’s Clubs.

Scarola, a land-use hearing officer for Hillsborough County, had a public hearing on the request on March 16. He has 15 working days from that public hearing to issue his ruling.

Scarola has the final word on the request, unless it is challenged to the county’s Appeals Board.

Representatives for the applicants — Charter Schools Properties Inc., and Charter Schools Associates Inc., contend that conditions required by Hillsborough County staff address the proposed project’s impacts.

The applicants scaled down their original request for more than 1,000 students, to a school that now would have no more than 870 kindergarteners through eighth-graders.

As it stands now, the school would be developed in two phases, with 670 students housed in a two-story classroom building with 33 classrooms in phase one. The second phase, which is contingent upon an additional traffic analysis, would serve 200 students, in 11 classrooms, in another two-story building.

Both classroom buildings would have a maximum height of 38 feet and would be situated near Sunlake Boulevard.

The applicants have agreed to spend about $500,000 for transportation improvements, said Michael Horner, a planner representing them.

Conditions for approval also call for substantially greater buffering requirements to protect adjacent properties than is required under the county’s code, Horner said.

Michael Raysor, a traffic engineer representing the applicant, said access to the site would be one driveway on Lutz Lake Fern Road, which would be right in/right out only; and two driveways on Sunlake Boulevard. One would be right in/right out only, and the other would be right out only.

The applicant has agreed to build new right turn lanes and a new U-turn lane in conjunction with the project.

Opponents have objected for months about the traffic the school would generate, as well as expressing concerns about potential flooding, fumes from vehicle exhausts and noise from outdoor activities.

Despite those objections, the proposed use has received a recommendation for approval from county staff and garnered no objections from the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission staff.

The school is an acceptable transitional use, according to Tom Hiznay, a county planner.

The site’s design, along with the conditions for approval, provides “sensitivity to surrounding uses,” Hiznay said.

Jay Bockisch, a traffic engineer, speaking on behalf of the opponents, said the proposed school would create the same traffic impacts as a regional mall, four Publix shopping centers, or the tallest office building in downtown Tampa.

“This is not a transitional land use. This is an intense traffic generator. We have safety concerns,” Bockisch said.

The traffic waiting to get into the school’s site will cause backups on Lutz Lake Fern Road, Sunlake Boulevard and North Dale Mabry Highway, he predicted.

The backups on North Dale Mabry Highway, he said, will pose a safety nightmare.

“This is an adverse impact not only to the local community, but to the motoring public along Dale Mabry Highway.”

But Raysor said, “There are multiple safeguards written into the conditions.”

Joseph Serio, who lives directly west of the proposed school site, is concerned about potential flooding. “Where are you going to put the water from the additional highway lanes?” Serio asked.

In rebuttal, an expert representing the applicant said drainage requirements must be met.

Gimpel, of Ruth Gimpel Stables Inc., urged Scarola to deny the request. The stable, at 18920 Sunlake Blvd., has produced 75 world champions and 63 reserve champions, as well as providing fun and learning experiences for riders.

The charter school would change that, Gimpel said.

“It’ll force me to sell my farm. It would destroy my livelihood.”

Published March 25,2015

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