Lutz has survived more than a century with no municipal water or sewer. And it might end up going another century without it as well.
In a workshop Dec. 8, members of the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission will hear something they may not like: Lutz residents are turning their backs on a proposed plan to extend the county’s urban service area up U.S. 41.
Getting an urban service area designation is a significant step in helping to bring more business — and even more residents — to an area, planners say. In fact, 80 percent of all county growth would take place in those areas, countywide planning team leader Stephen Griffin told a small group of Lutz residents Nov. 18.
“When you are inside that service area, you are going to see growth and development,” Griffin said. “But being in an urban service area doesn’t mean you can’t have other uses like agriculture. That would still be permitted inside the urban service area.”
For decades, Lutz has maintained its independence from the high population growth taking place in the rest of Hillsborough. Although six lanes of U.S. 41 were laid right through the heart of the downtown Lutz, existing water and sewer infrastructure along the way requires septic tanks and well access — both undesirable and even outright impossible for larger businesses to move in.
But that’s exactly what many of the residents want there, said Mike White, president of the Lutz Citizens Coalition.
“I’ve polled our members, and the resounding answer that has come back is that we don’t want water and septic,” White said. “We like our wells. We don’t want to take a chance of losing control of the rural character of Lutz.”
Community resistance means when the urban service area is expanded, it will stay south of the Lutz apex where U.S. 41 and North Florida Avenue split near the entrance to the Avila subdivision.
“We will conclude our expansion opportunity and leave it to that little area on the south,” Griffin said. “That is what we’re going to move forward with. We are going to leave it the way that it is.”
That’s not what one land and business owner in Lutz was hoping to hear. William Payne, the owner of the engineering firm WSP Consultants in Lutz, says it’s time the area moves forward and embraces some of the amenities their neighboring communities have.
“It is a real shame that the comments from non-commercial parcel owners could so easily sway the planning commission,” Payne said in an email to community planner Yeneka Mills before last week’s meeting. “I hope this decision is not final, and the planning commission will reconsider expanding the (urban service area) further north by meeting directly with commercial parcel owners.”
Payne owns two 1950s-era commercial buildings at 19006 N. U.S. 41 and 19008 N. U.S. 41 he purchased through his company, William & Mary Investment Group LLC, for $585,000 in 2006. He said he was the only person who attended an August meeting with planning commission officials who actually owned commercial property in the potential expansion area.
However, part of the appeal of Lutz is its unchanging nature, White said, despite the suburban growth that’s occurring around it, including Pasco County to the north. The fear is that Lutz would turn into another Dale Mabry Highway, with high commercial density and a lost community spirit.
“There are a lot of people whose kids move, and they will be gone for five or six years,” he said. “And then they come back. My daughter has been gone for 10 years, and she can’t wait to move out here.”
Upgrading infrastructure to help support a more suburban community does not mean it has to be developed that way, Griffin said.
“The county does not force you to hook into the system,” he said. “We wanted to help precipitate improvements so that more local and small businesses have the ability to tap into the water and sewer lines, if that is available.”
However, one older resident who didn’t identify himself felt it was still too much.
“The risk of changing to an urban service area far outweighs any benefits from it,” he said.
Once the planning commission decides how it wants to pursue an urban service area, it will hold another public meeting to discuss that plan with affected residents and business owners in the spring.
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