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Opponents of proposed Bloomingdale big box plan to sue Hillsborough

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Published:   |   Updated: September 10, 2013 at 05:26 PM

BRANDON — A core group of about 100 opponents of a proposed big box store and apartment complex near the Bloomingdale Regional Library voted Monday night to regroup, file suit and fight on.

They plan to solicit their neighbors for money to continue the legal battle, erect signs throughout the community showing their opposition to the county’s action, organize fund-raisers and let county commissioners know they’ll likely be voting for whomever runs against them in the next election.

Since spring, the community has been pushing back against a land-use code amendment that allows a big box store to be built near the library and Bloomingdale High School. Residents say the county gave the developer a rezoning without going through the correct process. It is on that basis they plan to sue.

It’s going to take a lot of money and a lot of volunteers, said Fred Brown, a member of the Coordinated Active Neighborhoods for Development Organization, or CAN-DO, the committee that has taken the lead in this fight.

By going for a land-use code amendment, rather than a rezoning, the developer did not have to notify the surrounding neighbors of its plan for a big box store on the 43.5-acre parcel behind the library, said CAN-DO member Diane Sandow. And because that parcel was the only one in the county previously zoned for a Traditional Neighborhood Development, or TND, it was the only one affected by the code change.

And that, Sandow said, is a rezoning by another name.

Red Cast, the development group planning the project, has not yet named a major tenant, but it is widely rumored to be Walmart.

Residents say such a development, which includes a 260-unit apartment complex with mostly one-bedroom units, will do nothing but add to an already chaotic traffic situation in the area, create a more dangerous environment for pedestrians traveling from the high school and library and lower their property values.

Brown did warn the group that even if they move forward with a lawsuit, it won’t stop the developer from breaking ground and starting construction. Getting an injunction to halt all development would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars the group doesn’t have, Sandow added.

CAN-DO, which has already hired attorney Pamela Jo Hatley to represent it, plans to incorporate as a 501(c)4, then file the lawsuit. A 501(c)4, according to the Internal Revenue Service, is a tax-exempt non-profit that is allowed to dabble in politics, as long as its primary purpose is social welfare or, the common good of the community.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham said he was not aware of any plans for a lawsuit. He referred further comment to the Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office. A representative from the county attorney’s office could not be reached for comment.

Since this fight first began, the county attorney’s office has argued that the deal is done and cannot be undone, just because residents are voicing opposition.

But residents say they were duped when the Hillsborough County staff advertised a countywide land-use change at the time to allow mixed-used development, including big box stores, without ever mentioning this parcel, especially since it was the only one affected by the land-use code change.

Red Cast, an offshoot of development consulting group Red Stone, has refused to meet with the community to discuss the project and told the CAN-DO committee it plans to move forward with the project.

For more information on CAN-DO, contact bloomingdalebigbox@gmail.com. The group also has a Facebook page — www.facebook.com/BloomingdaleBigBox — which it is using to disseminate information.

yhammett@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7127

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