About 90 concerned residents turned out to a strategy meeting on Jan. 8, as opponents gear up to battle a proposed charter school for up to 1,050 kindergarten through eighth-grade students in Lutz.
Charter Schools Inc., of Boca Raton is seeking permission from Hillsborough County to allow a school for students in kindergarten through eighth grade at the southwest corner of Lutz Lake Fern Road and Sunlake Boulevard.
The operator of the school would be Charter Schools Association of Coral Gables, according to the application filed with Hillsborough County.
The proposed Sunlake Academy would operate on 7.46 acres. A 1-acre outparcel at the site represents a potential child care center in the future that is already permitted by existing zoning.
A public hearing on the request is set for Feb. 16. The meeting begins at 6 p.m., but the precise time this request will be heard won’t be known until that evening because there generally are a number of items on the agenda.
The hearing has already been delayed twice and there’s a chance it could be delayed again, Mike White, president and founder of the Lutz Citizens Coalition told area residents and interested parties who gathered at J.F. Swartsel Masonic Lodge, 3109 Lutz Lake Fern Road.
The application for the project shows two phases.
The first phase includes a two-story building with 33 classrooms, and the second phase calls for a two-story building with 20 classrooms.
The plans also show a storm water pond, a playground, and areas for parking for both vehicles and bicycles. Plans also call for basketball courts.
Since submitting the original plans, the applicant has revised the plans to include a number of changes, including a larger buffer area and setback from residential lots to the west of the proposed school, double tree plantings and fencing.
The plans also include revised plans regarding how vehicles will be able to get in and out of the proposed school.
Area residents and organizations have submitted letters objecting to the proposed school — citing concerns about traffic congestion, potential flooding and negative impacts on their quality of life and property values.
Todd Caroline, who lives in Lake Fern Villa, notes that the project would back up to his property line, according to a letter objection he submitted to Hillsborough County.
“It is already a struggle to get out of our community morning, afternoon and evening due to a poorly built intersection at Lutz Lake Fern Road and Sunlake (Boulevard). Ever since Steinbrenner (High School), Martinez (Middle School) and McKitrick (Elementary School) have opened, it has only gotten worse,” Caroline wrote in a Dec. 23 email to Hillsborough County staff.
Other residents are on record objecting to the size, scope and density of the project.
They note that Sunlake and Lutz Lake Fern are two-lane roads and are not equipped to handle the additional traffic this project would generate.
The hearing officer must consider “substantially competent evidence” in determining whether to grant the special use permit, White said.
So, while it may feel good to complain about the potential negative impacts, it is crucial to provide the hearing officer factual data, White said.
“You don’t have to be a traffic engineer. You don’t have to be an attorney,” White said, but residents must meet certain benchmarks for their testimony to be considered by the hearing officer.
He recommended “fighting fire with fighting” and “fighting data with data” by hiring an attorney and a traffic engineer to protect opponents’ interests.
A legal defense fund has been set up to collect contributions to cover costs for an attorney and traffic engineer.
Residents also plan to fan out in their neighborhoods to collect signatures opposing the proposed charter school.