St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Dump truck detour may finally arrive

Six years of unwelcome dust and dump trucks may finally be curtailed through a complex land deal.

BILL COATS
Published July 6, 2003

LUTZ - An imminent land deal apparently will accomplish what lawyers, planners and politicians could not: reroute dump trucks away from the homes on Sunlake Boulevard.

Hillsborough County officials have signed an agreement with landowners north of Sunlake and prospective developers of that land, requiring them by April to build a detour route for the trucks.

"I think it's fantastic, obviously," said Ardyth Bahr, who has led the neighborhood's efforts to remove the trucks. "Parents are going to be able to let their kids ride their bikes without worrying about them being run over by dump trucks, and they won't be waked up at 6 a.m. by dump trucks anymore."

A meeting about the plan is scheduled for 7 p.m. July 15 at the Lutz Community Center, next to the Lutz Branch Library off Lutz-Lake Fern Road.

Pat Bean, deputy Hillsborough County administrator, said the plan tentatively is scheduled for a vote by the County Commission on Aug. 6, but that could change depending on public reaction in Lutz.

Bean said timing also could be affected by permitting requirements, including a creek crossing.

"Any construction project that requires those kinds of permits is unpredictable," she said.

The detour will cure an embarrassment for the county government and a six-year plague on Sunlake.

In 1997, the first of a series of controversial fill-dirt excavations opened in Pasco County just north of Sunlake. Hillsborough officials had vehemently opposed the use of Sunlake for traffic to the excavations. But then a county employee gave routine approval to a benign-sounding request by landowner Peter Geraci to allow trucks to leave the family ranch with products such as "cattle, hay, mulch, sand, peat and timber, etc."

The permit has authorized up to 1,500 trips a day ever since. A few hundred trucks a day have been enough to set off car alarms and tempers, and coat the neighborhood with dust.

Hillsborough County's attorneys tried suing the Geracis but dropped the suit. They tried diverting the trucks to Sierra Pines Boulevard, 11/2 miles to the west. But that idea was repulsed by VillaRosa residents whose homes back up to Sierra Pines.

Geraci and his brother Nick, meanwhile, sold U.S. Home Corp. the land that now is being developed as Heritage Harbor, and they obtained a rezoning for a 329-home development east of Heritage Harbor.

Now, the Geracis have a contract to sell that land to Centex Homes. The Centex deal has forced the Sunlake issue.

The Pasco County government decades ago mapped the main entrance road for the Centex project as a future highway connecting much of central Pasco down to N Dale Mabry Highway. Currently, that traffic is mapped to flow down Sunlake. Bahr's 40-year-old neighborhood would become the entrance to a new, upscale development five times as large, with traffic far worse than the dump trucks.

So the detour, which had been proposed 21/2 years ago, came to life as a solution. The key is 13 acres Hillsborough County owns on Lutz-Lake Fern Road. The road will run through there, and Centex will obtain enough land beside the road for an entrance. In a land trade, Hillsborough will be given road right of way north of there.

"Seeing is believing, but that gives me a ray of hope," said Kym Martinez, who bought a house on Sunlake in 1996 a year before the trucks arrived.

Since then, dust from the trucks has ruined her swimming pool equipment and penetrated the $300 cover on her BMW. She had to replace all her windows with airtight ones to protect an asthmatic nephew who lives there during the summers.

"When it rains, we're in mud," she said.

But years of failed solutions have left Martinez skeptical, she said.

"There's got to be something in fine print that somebody's going to miss," she said. "I'm not as trusting, I guess."

- Bill Coats can be reached at 813 269-5309 or coats@sptimes.com

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.