By B.C. Manion
Residents living near a proposed charter school in Lutz for sixth- through 12th-graders are so concerned about potential negative impacts, they have filed an appeal to try to block it.
It’s not the school that opponents said they oppose — it’s the proposed location and its potential for creating dangerous traffic conditions, potential flooding and unwanted noise and pollution.
They outlined their concerns about the potential development in an appeal to the Hillsborough County Land Use Appeals Board. They have asked the board to rescind a decision by Land Use Hearing Officer Steven Luce, or at least send it back to the hearing officer.
Luce granted a request by Learning Gate Community School to build on a 62-acre site near the intersection of Sunset Lane and US 41.
The school, which has won national recognition for its environmental education emphasis, wants to accommodate up to 1,000 middle and high school students on a heavily forested campus.
Its plans call for several school buildings scattered about the campus for classrooms, a green house, administrative offices and an agricultural barn.
Patti Girard, founder of Learning Gate, said the new campus is intended to allow for expanded enrollment and extended curriculum through high school.
Girard said none of the buildings would exceed 25,000 square feet, in keeping with the school’s desire to minimize impacts on the site.
Unlike traditional high schools, this one does not include a stadium or athletic facilities.
At a May 14 public hearing before Luce, Girard said the school wants to work out an arrangement with Hillsborough County to use the recreational facilities at Nye Park. So far, county officials said they have not discussed that idea with school representatives.
The school plans to have two entrances. One would be off of two-lane Sunset and the other off four-lane US 41.
Neighbors said allowing access off of Sunset would increase hazards on a road that already has safety issues.
In their appeal, they note the school does not yet have an easement off US 41 to get to the school site. Thus, they contend, it lacks the access to a four-lane road required for high schools in the Lutz Community Plan, which is incorporated as part of Hillsborough’s comprehensive plan.
Girard and experts testifying on the school’s behalf told Luce at the May 14 hearing that traffic impacts would be minimized by its schedule. The school will stagger its starting and ending times for students, thus reducing the number of vehicles that be will on the road at any given time, they said. They also will arrive after the peak morning traffic and leave before the afternoon peak traffic.
In granting the school’s request, Luce adopted conditions for approval suggested by county staff and added restrictions for turning movements at the Sunset entrance.
But a group of residents who joined together for the appeal said Luce disregarded their objections in rendering his decision.
At the public hearing, they raised concerns about potential flooding, a lack of public water and sewer services, environmental damage the project will cause and increased noise, pollution and litter.
In their appeal, opponents also contend the architectural style of the school conflicts with the Lutz Community Plan, which calls for schools to emulate the Georgian Rival-style of the community’s Old Lutz Schoolhouse.
The appeal has been set for a hearing on Sept. 14.
The appeals board can uphold or remand the case to the hearing officer during the board’s first hearing.
If the case is brought back for a second appeal, the appeals board has the authority to rescind the permit, but that action must be taken by a super majority of the board.
Anyone wishing to challenge the appeals board’s action must take the issue to court.
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