A proposed charter school in Lutz has received approval, despite objections from nearby residents, homeowner associations and community organizations.
Land use hearing officer James Scarola approved a special use permit for the Tampa Academy of Math and Science, a charter school for up to 870 kindergarteners through eighth-graders.
In his April 6 decision, Scarola found that the request complies with the county’s land development code and the Hillsborough County’s comprehensive plan.
The ruling will stand, unless an appeal is filed with the county’s Appeals Board.
Plans call for the charter school to occupy 7.46 acres of an 8.45-acre tract, on the west side of Sunlake Boulevard, just south of Lutz Lake Fern Road.
The remaining acre is being reserved for a future development.
Besides clearing the way for the school, Scarola also approved a request to waive buffer requirements between the school and the remnant 1-acre parcel.
The applicants — Charter Schools Properties Inc., and Charter Schools Associates Inc. — scaled down their original request for a school for more than 1,000 students. They also agreed to numerous conditions addressing transportation issues, building height, buffering, phasing of development, placement of the school buildings, and the outdoor play area. They also must turn off outdoor lights by 9 p.m.
Phase one plans call for a two-story classroom building, with 33 classrooms for a maximum of 670 students.
Phase two, which is contingent upon an additional traffic analysis, would serve 200 students, in 11 classrooms, in another two-story building.
Both classroom buildings will be situated near Sunlake Boulevard.
Access to the site will be from one driveway on Lutz Lake Fern Road, which will be a right in/right out only, and two driveways on Sunlake Boulevard. One of those driveways would be right in/right out only, and the other would be right out only.
The applicant has agreed to build new right-turn lanes and a new U-turn lane in conjunction with the project.
Opponents have objected for months about the traffic the school would generate. They also have expressed concerns about potential flooding, fumes from vehicle exhausts and noise from outdoor activities.
County planners recommended approval of the request, with conditions, and staff from the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission did not object.
During the hearing, Tom Hiznay, a county planner, told Scarola that the site’s design, along with conditions for approval, provides “sensitivity to surrounding uses.”
But Jay Bockisch, a traffic engineer, speaking on behalf of the opponents, characterized the proposed use as “an intense traffic generator” that would have the same kind of traffic impacts as a regional mall, four Publix shopping centers, or the tallest office building in downtown Tampa.
“This is not a transitional land use,” Bockisch said. “We have safety concerns.”
Pat and Joe Serio, who live directly behind the proposed school, voiced strenuous objections to the hearing officer’s decision.
“We were very disappointed, but hardly surprised,” Pat Serio said, in an email.
“It was a totally uphill battle on our part, the most immediate and most impacted residents, neighbors and citizens of Lutz and Hillsborough County and others who will have to live with the consequences of this ill-conceived project and deal with the traffic issues on a daily basis whether commuting or delivering children to and from the numerous already existing area schools,” she wrote.
She also noted that she and her husband were disappointed that county commissioners did not respond when they reached out to them regarding concerns about the school.
“Once again, the Lutz Comprehensive Plan was ignored and the decades’ long efforts by the residents to keep Lutz quasi-rural have been for naught,” she added.
Joe Serio, also via email, said the hearing officer ignored testimony by a traffic expert representing the opponents.
The hearing officer also disregarded testimony at the hearing that “clearly showed the violation of the Lutz Community Plan,” he added.
A brochure for the Tampa Academy of Math and Science says the school is planning to open in the 2016 school year. It plans to focus on science, technology, engineering and math and will use hands-on learning and a solid foundation in core disciplines.
To find out more about the school or for early enrollment inquiries, email , or visit CharterSchoolAssociates.com.
Published April 15, 2015