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Wednesday, Oct 01, 2014
Columnists

Henderson: Big-box boom coming to neighborhood near you

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People in Bloomingdale have been fighting to keep a big-box store from being built in their neighborhood. Believe me, if you live in the area they do, you would understand why the thought of more development is enough to make you crazy. You might even want to root for them.

These projects bring jobs, true. They also bring gridlock in the form of more traffic to an area already saturated with cars. And of course, nothing says community ambiance like another Walmart or Home Depot. The county attorney says it is too late to stop the project because the law says it has met all the requirements.

The Bloomingdale folks disagree and have hired their own attorney.

You might think that’s the end of the story. It’s just more upset folks fighting a battle that never seems to end. We do like to pave over things in this county. Our motto should be “Hillsborough: Land of Enchantment, Asphalt and Traffic Cones.”

You might want to pay a little extra attention this time, though. We might just be getting started on these kinds of neighborhood disputes, and the next big-box building might be coming to your zip code.

“There is no nice way to say this,” Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham said. “You’ll be seeing this all over the county.”

People in Brandon are extra sensitive to this issue because they feel they get dumped on a lot. Let’s put it this way: Brandon has no shortage of Walmarts, and Higginbotham is the only commissioner who lives east of Interstate 75.

And the commission did vote 6-0 in January to stop a 47,300-square-foot Walmart grocery planned for Carrollwood. Although he voted to stop the project, Higginbotham said then, “We’re going to end up in court.”

He was right. A month after that vote, the developer sued the commission.

To find out the developer’s legal argument, go back to 2003. That’s when the commission voted 7-0 to approve zoning changes that allow mixed-used development in what had been traditional neighborhoods. The idea was to fill in open neighborhood spaces to slow down urban sprawl.

Outside of developers, few people seemed to notice. There appeared to be little opposition.

Proposed projects started going through the approval process and many met the criteria. The recession put a lot of them on hold, but instead of going away they just piled up. With the economy picking up, developers are starting to build again. That’s how we got here.

“Legally, we have no choice but to approve these,” he said.

It’s not just big-box stores, either. Construction that was stalled by the recession has started on two large housing projects adjacent to my subdivision in Brandon. That means more cars fighting for space on a two-lane road that is already crowded.

That, too, is a story being repeated in many parts of the county.

This time, it’s Bloomingdale’s turn to argue that a big retail store is incompatible with the neighborhood. Next time it will be some other location. They have a powerful point, but around here development trumps ambiance every time.

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