The Hillsborough County Commission voted 4-3 to remand a rezoning request for a gas station and carwash off U.S. 41, north of Sunset Lane, in Lutz.
Commissioners Ken Hagan, Kimberly Overman, Mariella Smith and Chairwoman Pat Kemp voted to remand the request and Commissioners Harry Cohen, Gwen Myers and Stacy White dissented.
Those who voted to send the case back to the zoning hearing master for further review specifically said they want the county’s Department of Environmental Protection to take a closer look at whether a septic system will be capable of handling the discharge from a proposed carwash.
They voiced concerns about potential problems because the area has lakes, private wells and sensitive wetlands.
Commissioner Smith said the hearing can explore other issues, too.
“I would not have it limited,” she said, noting that citizens are free to discuss other topics, such as light pollution and compatibility, she added.
During the Hillsborough board’s Oct. 12 public hearing, Smith said the county also needs to take a closer look at its rezoning process.
Under current procedures, no testimony can be presented to commissioners during a rezoning hearing unless it was part of the record before the zoning hearing master.
The zoning hearing master recommends approval or denial on zoning cases, but the county board has the final word.
The request, by RKM and 7-Eleven, drew both support and opposition at the county board’s hearing and also at the zoning hearing master hearing on Aug. 16.
Attorney Cami Corbett, representing the applicants at both hearings, described the proposed gas station as a modern building, designed specifically to fit within the character of Lutz.
She said it is within the node that’s specifically designated for neighborhood commercial development within the Lutz Community Plan.
Natalie Davis, of 17880 N. U.S. 41, in Lutz, spoke in favor of the request at both hearings.
She noted that Lutz typically has wanted to slow development — but even so, a significant amount of new projects have popped up along U.S. 41.
Those developments have included a Publix, a Dunkin’ Donuts, restaurants, McDonald’s, a self-storage unit, a Walgreens, a bank, and professional office parks, as well as new neighborhoods.
Davis favors growth along U.S. 41, which she noted is a six-lane road, and questioned why a gas station should be excluded.
“I am here to represent the next generation of Lutz,” she said.
Gus Weekley, who owns the property up for rezoning, along with his brother, said the family has deep roots in Lutz.
The proposed site of the gas station is land that was owned by his grandmother and where she sold fruit raised on the land to those traveling by on the only major road into Tampa.
“We believe that Lutz is a special community,” he said, adding the 7-Eleven will be a good fit.
Sam Calco, president of the Lutz Citizens Coalition, spoke against the request.
He noted an error in the hearing master’s record and said that was sufficient to merit a remand.
County staff, however, said that the hearing officer’s recommendation was based on accurate information, despite the error in the report.
Jay Muffly, a longtime community activist, was direct: “I oppose this rezoning because it is not compatible with the Lutz community. Period.”
He also expressed concerns about potential negative impacts from light pollution.
Both Kemp and Overman voiced concerns about allowing a car wash to operate on a septic system.
The idea of dropping the carwash from the application was raised, but the applicant indicated no interest in taking that approach.
The project would hook onto public water and sewer, but it is not available, Corbett said.
Questions also were raised about whether the proposed development meets the county’s locational criteria.
That standard says the project should be within 900 feet of the intersection of U.S. 41 and Sunset Lane. But a portion of the proposed project is 960 feet away from that intersection, according to testimony provided during the county board’s discussion.
Commissioner Hagan initially said he wasn’t sure the board had legal grounds to deny the rezoning.
Ultimately, though, he went along with three of his colleagues when they called for a remand to pursue additional information.
The next hearing has been set for Nov. 15 at 6 p.m.
In-person and remote hybrid Zoning Hearing Master meetings are held at Robert W. Saunders Sr. Public Library, in the Ada T. Payne Community Room, at 1505 N. Nebraska Ave., in downtown Tampa.
Published October 20, 2021