Applicant Louis Geraci LLLP recently withdrew his application for two air curtain incinerators in Lutz, after infuriated neighbors and elected leaders rose up against it.
Now, the Hillsborough County Commission wants to be certain the request can’t surface again on the site at 1225 Crystal Lake Road. They are expected to modify the original rezoning that listed the incinerators as an allowable use in an agricultural zone.
The county board is expected to take that action on Oct. 11.
County board members, who also sit as the board of the Environmental Protection Commission (EPC), said they had no knowledge the incinerators were being planned because there had been no discussion of that possibility when the rezoning occurred.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Mariella Smith noted: “We have to count on the people who come and testify to us, to give us an accurate assessment of what is being approved in the zoning stage.
“In this case, we had the founder of the assisted living facility right up the road writing us a letter saying he was in support of this because it was going to revert back to agriculture, because it was going to reduce traffic. He was fooled into thinking this was going to be good.
“His clients at the assisted living facility were going to be at risk because of the fumes,” Smith said.
County Commissioner Ken Hagan thanked his colleagues for supporting his motion at the EPC board meeting, which called for halting the EPC staff from working on the application and communicating the EPC board’s objections to the secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, to the governor and to members of the Hillsborough Legislative Delegation.
“I knew what I was asking for was unprecedented. Procedurally, this was supposed to be an administrative issue. It did not come under our purview.
“I want to thank each board member for standing with the neighborhood and doing the right thing, even though we knew it was unprecedented and it could have led to legal challenges,” Hagan said.
He continued: “The reaction was swift. That day I received a call from their attorney. At that time I encouraged them to rescind their permit application, as well as their site development plan.”
They did both.
It was, Hagan said, “a clear victory for the neighborhood.”
The commissioner added that the intense community opposition played a key role in the outcome.
“Very rarely have I ever seen a neighborhood come together so quickly and be so unified.
“With respect to Lutz, I think it goes back to the ‘80s, when it was the East-West road that wanted to go through Lutz,” Hagan said.
Smith pointed out that the EPC’s staff played a crucial role on the issue, too, because of the notice it provided to neighbors about application for state approval of the incinerators.
“Typically, the applicant in a case like this, just would have gone straight to the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection),” Smith said.
But Hillsborough has its own EPC staff and board, and its staff is under contract with DEP to process such applications.
The EPC staff recognized that the request was for a project of heightened concern, triggering public notice and a planned community meeting.
When word got out about the proposed use, hundreds of opponents bombarded county board members with emails, and more than 600 signed up for the planned community meeting.
The county commissioners, sitting as the EPC board, listened to more than an hour of public testimony against the request. Opponents raised issues about public health hazards, negative impacts on the quality of life, potential dangers caused by truck traffic in area neighborhoods, and a likely reduction in nearby property values.
“If we didn’t have EPC, nobody would have even know that this was happening. It would have gone straight to the state, and the state would have issued a permit. Boom,” Smith said.
Adam Gormly, director of development services, said that beyond modifying this particular rezoning application, the county also will engage in amending the county’s land development code regarding the location of incinerators and the types of operations.
For instance, the way the code is currently written, there’s no distinction between temporary and permanent incinerators, he said.
Gormly added: “This site is a good example of a location of where it would not be a good use for the community.”
Commissioner Pat Kemp said she’d like to pursue whether the county can charge a fee and conduct its own traffic studies on rezonings. She noted that Sarasota County does that.
“We should have had a traffic study for everything in here,” Kemp said, noting the county board had no idea that truck traffic might be coming and going to the Crystal Lake Road location.
Gormly told the board that having the county handle the traffic studies would add a significant amount of time necessary to process rezoning requests.
Published August 31, 2022