tampabay.com

School site approved in Hudson

County planners give the site a go-ahead, but area residents promise to fight the decision.

By CHUIN-WEI YAP
Published February 23, 2007


NEW PORT RICHEY - Over the objections of residents, the county's top planners Thursday approved a high school site in Hudson.

It has been a week of reversal upon reversal for county planning staff, who first found the $8-million site consistent with Pasco's growth blueprint, then found it inconsistent, and finally found it consistent. The sticking point was $4.2-million worth of road improvements at the State Road 52 and Chicago Avenue site.

Thursday's decision pulls the county back from the brink of an unprecedented situation: a proposed school location thrown out by county planners.

As part of its decision, the Development Review Committee told the district to settle the issue of road improvements and conduct a ground-penetrating radar study to find a possible unmarked cemetery in the area.

"I spoke to a high-ranking school official, who said they were not interested in putting in any money," said County Administrator John Gallagher, referring to Superintendent Heather Fiorentino. "I spoke to that high-ranking person today, and there seemed to be some movement."

Fiorentino told the committee Thursday that she now supports kicking in $2.2-million to share the roads' cost.

Residents packed the room to speak against the high school's location.

They warned of traffic tie-ups, drug problems, speeding, noise and crime.

They accused the School Board of refusing to take their concerns seriously, a charge assistant superintendent Ray Gadd denied.

They challenged the proposed site's consistency with state law and the county's comprehensive land use plan.

"Students will die getting to that school, and residents will die trying to get to the hospital, because they are tied up in traffic," said resident Al Hein.

County officials said residents' concerns would be addressed when the school's site plan returns to the committee for approval. A date for that has not been set.

District officials stressed the county's need for more high schools. A Holiday school is proposed to relieve overcrowding at Mitchell High School, and the Hudson facility would ease pressures on Ridgewood and Hudson high schools.

"If we open (the Holiday school) and not open (the Hudson one), we cannot accommodate future growth," district official Chris Williams warned.

Residents promised to take the fight to higher levels.

They said they would consider going to court, bringing in the state Department of Community Affairs and taking their case to the County Commission.

Chuin-Wei Yap can be reached at (813)909-4613 or cyap@sptimes.com.