Neighbors cite worries about traffic
By B.C. Manion
St. Timothy’s Catholic Church in Lutz is planning to open a school for up to 600 children in kindergarten through eighth grade.
The church, at 17512 Lakeshore Road, has received a special use permit that allows it to build a new 84,600-square-foot school building and a 16,980-square-foot youth center.
The church previously had received a special use permit that would have allowed a school for up to 270 children, said Bonnie Rubesha, a planning consultant representing the Diocese of St. Petersburg.
But a school of that size was deemed financially impractical, so the diocese and church have worked in concert to pursue a special use permit that would allow a larger school on the 28.6-acre site, Rubesha said.
Hillsborough County Land Use Hearing Officer Steve Luce granted a special use for the school and youth center following a May 14 public hearing.
But neighbors challenged the hearing officer’s ruling to the Hillsborough Land Use Appeals Board, which heard the case Oct. 12.
Jeffrey Hahn and Walter Furr, who live near the church, spoke at the appeals hearing.
They told the board that they don’t object to the school project, but are concerned about traffic that may cut through their quiet neighborhood as parents take kids to and from school.
Furr told board members the neighborhood’s only experience so far has been traffic coming and going to the church. So, he said, they can only imagine what impact the school will have.
“We’re trying to project what’s going to happen,” Furr said. “We’ve had a lot of problems with people speeding down the road. It affects people’s ability to enjoy their property.”
Furr and Hahn initially raised the traffic concerns during the land use hearing, suggesting that the access onto Lakeside Drive be gated to prevent traffic from spilling into the neighborhood.
But Rubesha noted that access had been previously granted to the church and was not part of the request for the school.
Richard Kolhoff, representing the Diocese of St. Petersburg, told the land use officer the church didn’t want to gate off the access point, but would, if necessary, to gain approval for the school.
In his ruling, Luce decided to close the existing access onto Lakeside, but required the church to create a new one on the roadway about 250 feet west of the Lakeshore /Lakeside intersection. The new driveway will be east of the current one, which should reduce cut-through traffic, Luce noted.
Hahn and Furr objected to Luce’s action, saying that option was never discussed during the land use hearing so they didn’t have a chance to weigh in on it.
But Rubesha countered, pointing out that Luce’s decision was in response to neighbors’ concerns about traffic impacts. She reasoned that the new access point would have less effect on adjacent properties then the current access point on Lakeside.
The neighbors asked the appeals board to remand the case to Luce for another hearing.
Rubesha said that action would delay the church’s plans to open the school for another year.
The appeals board voted 3-1 to uphold Luce’s decision, with board member Tuyen Linh Tran dissenting. During the hearing, she observed that the neighborhood likely would be affected by additional traffic on the site.
Board chairman Richard Harrison and board member Biff Craine said that although Luce didn’t discuss the option of moving the access point during the special use permit hearing, his action appeared to be aimed at minimizing traffic impacts on neighbors.
They also noted that the hearing officer had a right to use his expertise to address the issue.
Rubesha said plans call for opening the new school in August 2014. Though the plans are still conceptual, the new structure is likely to be a two-story building, she said.
The new school is anticipated to be constructed on the western portion of the site, and the youth center is proposed to be built between the existing parish child-care center and the school.
It’s possible that the youth center could open before the new school, Rubesha said.
Plans also call for an outdoor area for athletics. It will not be lighted at night.
The church also plans to build a sidewalk on the perimeter of the south side of its property, with periodic access points for pedestrians. The plan is to preserve the existing landscaping, except for exotic plants that will be removed and replaced by native landscaping, Rubesha said.
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