A county zoning hearing master who had previously recommended against allowing development at the southeast corner of Kings Avenue and Lumsden Road has reversed that decision.
This time, at the direction of the Hillsborough County Commission, Steve Luce did not consider the possibility that a small wetland there would be destroyed to build a Racetrac service station and store. He based his decision solely on what might be allowed if the county’s Environmental Protection Commission approves destruction of the marshy area.
The decision has infuriated activists who have been battling against this development, which now will be considered for approval by the county commission and the Environmental Protection Commission. The seven county commissioners are the sole members of the environmental commission board.
“This case has been handled in a way we have never witnessed before – and we’ve been doing this a long time,” community activist Terry Flott said in an email to those following the case. “We should all be outraged that our quasi-judicial process of zoning hearings and all the procedures that go along with that were violated.”
The county commission has no business telling the zoning hearing master what to consider in writing a recommendation, Flott has said. He is supposed to abide by the county rules, she said.
Flott said she is hoping the opposition shows up en force April 9 at 9 a.m. for the final hearing on the matter, when the county commission will vote. The hearing will take place on the second floor of the County Center, at 601 E. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa.
Still, project cannot move forward without approval from the Environmental Protection Commission, which will likely weigh in after the county commission vote.
The case has been looming for months. First, the zoning hearing master recommended against it and the Environmental Protection Commission staff turned down a request to destroy the small wetland, saying it had been previously protected when an office complex was approved for the majority of the 55-acre site.
But when it made its way to the county commission in December 2012, that boarddecided the hearing master should not be addressing the wetland issue. The board sent the case back to the hearing master for reconsideration.
In his latest recommendation, Luce said he found the request for a maximum of 8,000 square feet of commercial development compatible with the surrounding land uses and zoning pattern.
But, not addressing the wetland issue makes a mockery of the entire process, Flott has said.
“The results of this case will affect all of Hillsborough County, our entire wetlands rule, and possibly the demise of our Wetland Division of the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County,” Flott said.