Hillsborough County wants to bring parts of the Lutz community — especially land along U.S. 41 — into the 21st century with county water and sewer. But some vocal residents in the community are still giving the idea a big no.
Officials want to make the Lutz Downtown Center Zoning District a reality, which would not change the development pattern or density of parcels along U.S. 41, but instead create the infrastructure necessary that might help business grow more on the popular corridor connecting Pasco County with Tampa.
“It’s the opportunity for parts of that area to receive water and sewer service,” said Yeneka Mills, a community planner for the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission. “We know that people there don’t want this to turn into a Dale Mabry (Highway), with traffic, and water and sewer. They think that this is going to be a lot of growth that will make roads congested.”
What it would likely create instead are amenities like restaurants and coffee shops, the kind of businesses that can’t operate off septic tanks without a huge financial investment, said William Payne, who owns some parcels of land in the proposed downtown district.
“The concept of public utilities brings fear to the local residents,” Payne, the owner of the engineering firm WSP Consultants in Lutz, said. “There is a very, very small group of vocal people, and they are very, very united. They oppose any potential development from County Line Road, all the way (south) to Avila. We could have downtown Lutz as a destination, and not just watch people go by us at 55 mph. Right now, those drivers have no reason to stop, and that’s hurting Lutz.”
However, Lutz has worked hard to maintain its small town atmosphere, despite the population explosion surrounding it. Some of the residents there have fought for decades to maintain the small-town character that has defined Lutz for so long, and feel improvements at this level could turn the community into just another retail district.
“There is this misnomer out there that our coalition is against growth, but we’re not against growth at all,” said Mike White, president of the Lutz Citizens Coalition. “We’re just against unplanned and bad growth that negatively impacts the community.”
Another misnomer, White said, is that it’s the lack of water and sewage infrastructure that’s preventing businesses like restaurants from finding their way into the Lutz downtown area along U.S. 41.
“What’s keeping the chain restaurant from coming into Lutz has nothing to do with infrastructure, and has everything to do with the market,” he said.
Mills and other Planning Commission officials met with a small group of residents in September to explore some of the ideas. But even if they do get approved, Payne says he doesn’t expect to see any actual work being done for at least another decade.
Septic tanks can be problematic beyond just wastewater disposal because it limits the number of parking spaces available on a property, Payne said. For example, his land on First Street Southwest that is currently home to a jazzercise center could be a great spot for the kind of business Lutz rarely sees.
“It’s a perfect spot for a coffee shop and drive-thru,” he said. “We’re in a high-income area, and the demographics suggest something like that can do well. But we can’t open something like that without sewer lines.”
The affected areas, according to Mills, include Lutz’s historic downtown area to Newberger Road, Crystal Lake Road to Sunset Lane, and the Crenshaw Lake Road area.
The way county officials talked, these pending upgrades already are a done deal, White said.
“Well, there isn’t much that we can do about it, to be honest with you,” he said. “Right now, the county is very pro-development, and we’ll just have to wait and see what comes down the pipeline.”
In the meantime, work crews are installing a water pipeline along U.S. 41, with businesses along the line able to connect if they are directly on it. Payne said he would connect his parcels to it as soon as the county allows.
“I look at it as positive development,” he said. “And this is what the zoning and planning commission are here for. They restrict what goes in there, so you can still keep a community protected, but welcome the amenities you need and want, too.”
Published October 1, 2014
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