Dozens of community members flanked Bloomingdale Avenue this week in protest of a Hillsborough County code amendment that allows development of a big-box store and high-density apartment complex next to the Bloomingdale Regional Library.
Residents say they believe that 10,000 to 12,000 more car trips a day the project would generate will make an already bad traffic situation in the area worse and put students who walk to nearby schools in danger.
They want to meet with county commissioners and convince them this development is a bad fit for Bloomingdale.
The opposition group, called CAN-DO, for Coordinated Active Neighborhoods for Development Organization, will meet Tuesday night at The Palms Community Church, 1310 E. Bloomingdale Ave., to further plan their strategy to fight this development.
The 43.5-acre parcel would contain a 158,800-square-foot store and about 260 apartments. Community activists say Lithia-Pinecrest Road just east of the project is already a failed road and can’t handle the additional cars. And adding more traffic on Bloomingdale will be a safety nightmare for students who walk along the road’s edges to school.
“I feel a lot of people still don’t know what’s going on here, what impact this will have,” said Michelle Salerno, president of the Alafia Elementary School PTA. More than half of the students walk to school and with traffic using side roads to avoid Bloomingdale, safety could be an issue, she said.
“We’re not opposed to development, but some development is just not right for every area,” said Martin Applebee, wearing a large yellow box for the protest. “This project is just too big for this community.”
“We spent over a year trying to find the perfect house to raise our son,” said Angie Tyre, carrying a large pink sign that read “No Big Box.” Traffic is the biggest concern, she said. “This project will take away the walkability. I won’t take my 4-year-old across Bloomingdale to get to the library.”
The county previously rezoned the land to allow a big box store, but community activists don’t believe people in the Bloomingdale area were given fair warning about the changes.
The county advertised a countywide land-use code change in 2011 to allow for mixed-use development on the property, never mentioning the Bloomingdale parcel by name, activists said. So no one would have known the change only affected one parcel in the county and as a result, no one showed up to oppose it during public hearings.
Now, residents find themselves in an uphill battle. According to a memo from County Attorney Adam Gormly to County Commissioner Al Higginbotham, the commission has no legal authority to further inject itself into the process, since the zoning is already in place to allow for a warehouse-type store and apartment complex.
For now, the only thing that is left for approval is a site plan and the transportation issues. According to Gormly, that is all handled by the county staff.
“Any attempt by the Board of County Commissioners or any individual commissioner to insert itself into this decision making process would have the potential to create significant liability for the county and should, therefore, be avoided,” Gormly wrote to Higginbotham.
Still, CAN-Do is forging ahead and has gathered more than 700 signatures on a petition opposing the plan.
“A big box just doesn’t fit here,” said CAN-DO organizer Eric Brosch. “This is a very community-focused part of Bloomingdale. We have the little league fields and the YMCA in one direction and the library and Bloomingdale High School in the other.”
Jennifer Heath, who lives just south of the land slated for a big box said she would prefer to see offices or smaller businesses go on the land, instead of a magnet business that will draw thousands of cars daily.
“The problem with the county commission is that they’ve done all this without a lot of public input,” said Jereme Monette, one of the protest leaders. “And as soon as we started asking questions about it, they got a legal opinion and stopped speaking to us.
“We need the county commission to realize what this will do to our roads,” Monette said.
Monette said 55 percent of the county’s population lives east of Interstate 75, but not one county commissioner lives in the Greater Brandon area. The commissioner whose district includes Bloomingdale – Higginbotham – lives north of Plant City.
“I just don’t know if they are aware of the impact this will have,” Monette said.