Opponents vow to appeal
By B.C. Manion
Learning Gate Community School’s application for a new location near the intersection of US 41 and Sunset Lane in Lutz has received a go-ahead from a land-use hearing officer, but opponents vow to appeal.
Hillsborough Land Use Hearing Officer Steven Luce approved the request in a June 1 ruling, provided the applicant meets conditions recommended by the county’s development staff. Luce also added these conditions, requiring the applicant to:
—Restrict turns into the Sunset Lane entrance to right-in, right-out and left-out only.
—Design and construct a westbound right-turn lane on Sunset Lane into the site.
—Hook up to public sewer services, if available. Otherwise, the septic tanks must be located outside of the Northwest Hillsborough Wellfield Wellhead Resource Protection Area (WRPA) Zone 2.
Learning Gate has operated as a charter elementary and middle school. The proposed campus would allow Learning Gate Community School to extend its brand of education to kids in ninth through 12th grades, but the location has stirred considerable controversy.
Supporters want older children to have the opportunity to experience what they consider to be an excellent education.
Opponents say they don’t object to the school itself, only to its proposed location.
Roughly 50 people turned out to support the school’s request at the May 14 public hearing, while around 60 showed up to oppose it.
The plan calls for a number of small buildings to be scattered on the 62-acre site to provide classrooms, administrative offices, arts, agricultural and other programs.
The proposed Gates School will emphasize global awareness, arts and innovative thinking, technology and environmental sustainability, according to the school’s application.
At the public hearing on the request, Patti Girard, founder of Learning Gate Community School, said the site’s freshwater marshes, open lakes and uplands are uniquely suited for their brand of environmental education.
Neighbors to the proposed campus, however, don’t share that feeling.
They told the hearing officer they fear the school will disrupt their way of life. They envision jammed roads and overtaxed septic tanks. They are also worried about potential flooding and threats to their drinking water supplies.
Supporters of the new campus said the school has a stellar record of educational success and environmental awareness. They would like to see the school offer its brand to students through high school. They also said they think the school would have less of an impact on its neighbors than other types of development on the site.
Hillsborough County staff recommended approval of the request with conditions. Staff members from The Planning Commission said the application complies with the county’s comprehensive plan.
Mike White, who lives off of Sunset Lane, disagrees with the Planning Commission’s findings. He thinks the school campus is a flagrant violation of the intention of the Lutz Community Plan.
“The stated intent of the plan is to preserve and protect the unique characteristics of that community,” White said. “The plan that was developed to protect that community is being grossly, grossly misrepresented.”
White said the people who are supposed to protect community residents’ quality of life are being “grossly negligent in their job.”
Gil and Betty McGee have lived for two decades on a property approximately 100 feet from a road that would be built to access the school from US 41.
“I’m very disappointed in their decision,” Gil McGee said. “I don’t think they really listened much to the opponents of the school.”
Girard could not be reached for comment.
Luce’s June 1 ruling will stand, unless it is appealed within 30 days to the Land Use Appeals Board. White said opponents plan to appeal, but he would not disclose their timetable for doing so.