Opponents to a proposed rezoning on Hale Road erupted in cheers and applause, when the Pasco County Commission voted 5-0 against the request.
KB Home had sought to put a total of up to 107 homes on two parcels on the north side of Hale Road and another parcel on the south side of Hale Road. Both properties are near Collier Parkway, in Land O’ Lakes.
Opponents came ready to do battle.
They made it easy to identify their opposition, by wearing fluorescent lime-green T-shirts.
They filled seats throughout the county board’s chamber. Some carried protest signs.
Maryann Bishop, who owns a 19-acre property next door to the proposed rezoning, on the north side of Hale Road, hired an attorney and a traffic engineer to fight the request.
Besides the family home, the property also is occupied by the Rosebud Continuum Ecological and Science Education Center. It also has a nature trail, a lake, bat houses, bee hives and farm animals.
Bishop and her attorney, Jane Graham, spelled out a multitude of reasons to deny the request.
They cited a recommendation for denial from the Pasco County Planning Commission, which listed 13 reasons for rejecting the rezoning.
Before showing up to the county board’s meeting, opponents voiced their objections to the Pasco County Planning Commission.
They also reached out to members of the county board, and they bombarded them with emails.
For their part, the applicant’s team noted that KB Home was proposing 2.4 houses per acre, far fewer than the six houses per acre contemplated in the county’s long-range plan.
They also noted changes made in the plan, after the planning board’s denial, intended to address safety concerns.
For instance, Cyndi Tarapani, a professional planner, told the county board: The project previously proposed two driveways to access the proposed development on the north side of Hale Road and one driveway to access the homes planned on the south side of the road.
After the planning board meeting, the applicant revised its plan to show access to Collier Parkway from the southern parcel, where all but 22 homes are planned.
The applicant also agreed to add turning lanes and sidewalks, to address traffic concerns, she said.
But those concessions failed to sway opponents.
They said Hale Road is a substandard road and objected to adding any new development beyond what’s already zoned.
To bolster their case, they showed photographs of a garbage truck getting stuck, after failing to negotiate a sharp turn. A school bus that tried to get around it got stuck, as well as another vehicle, according to an area resident, who testified at the public hearing.
Several speakers said it’s not uncommon for accidents to occur, people to crash into fences and people to run off the road into ditches.
Those ditches often fill with water and are choked with weeds, speakers added.
Students in grades six through 12 who live within 2 miles of school no longer receive “courtesy” rides from Pasco County Schools, because of a shortage of bus drivers and money.
Area resident Debra Martinez told the county board: “These kids scare me to death in the morning. They’re walking in the road because they can’t walk in the ditch … It’s not a good situation on Hale Road.”
Opponents also testified about kids being at risk, as they ride their bikes, while carrying backpacks, on a substandard road that carries considerable traffic.
As a case in point, they showed a photo of a student walking on the edge of the road, with little room to spare for passing motorists.
Russell Watrous, one of the opponents, told commissioners: “Hale (Road) is not safe. I’ve driven Hale Road now for 28 years, back and forth to work. I’ve seen it change from a peaceful country road to something that’s really unsafe.”
He also raised questions about compatibility, noting the proposed lots with 40- and 50-foot frontage are far smaller than nearby lots and developments.
Watrous said he’s worried that approval of this request would trigger requests from similar properties and would set a dangerous precedent for the area.
Tarapani noted the applicant had placed its 50-foot lots in areas next to larger lots and had committed to providing buffering.
Several speakers, including Lilly Xi, president of the Scientific Journal Club at Land O’ Lakes High School, urged the county board to consider the area’s sustainability.
Prior to the meeting, Xi had submitted a packet of 200 emails or notes from Land O’ Lakes High students, expressing their thoughts on the issue.
Many students raised concerns about the need to protect the environment, to respect the ecosystem and to keep wildlife out of harm’s way.
One student told commissioners that “rapid-fire growth” isn’t in the interest of the people.
Area residents emailed commissioners, too.
Emily Keen reached out to Commissioner Mike Moore.
In part, she said: “I desire an end to developers coming into our neighborhoods to profit and then taking their money and running after they have put a strain on the environment, wildlife, our local community, roadways, water supply, water quality, and even understaffed/underfunded schools that don’t have room for more students.”
Keen also shared photos of white-tailed deer, sandhill cranes, a swallow-tailed kite, wood stork, spicebush swallowtail butterfly and Sherman’s fox squirrel. She said the photos were taken on her property, about a half-mile away from the proposed rezoning.
The public hearing lasted more than three hours, ending ultimately with a recommendation for denial by Commissioner Jack Mariano.
“I’ve never seen as much fact-based evidence in a hearing that we saw today. I’ve never see a planning commission go through and list 13 reasons to why a project shouldn’t go forward,” he said.
Like the opponents, Mariano cited concerns about safety, compatibility, stormwater runoff, a lack of streetlights and a substandard road without sidewalks.
“This just doesn’t fit,” Mariano said.