tampabay.com

Keystone development proposals rejected

Though the County Commission will have the last word, a panel backs the community plan.

By RODNEY THRASH and CATHERINE SHOICHET, Times Staff Writer
Published January 30, 2008


TAMPA - The Hillsborough Planning Commission unanimously rejected six proposals that would have changed the face of the county's rural communities.

Commissioners voted late Monday against an amendment that would allow developers to build 175,000 square feet of commercial space and 564 homes on 94 acres near Interstate 4 and McIntosh Road.

And they said a proposal to allow the extension of utility lines into rural areas for "economic development" was too broad - and premature. County officials, they said, should discuss that issue as part of an upcoming I-4 economic development study.

But the bulk of the 51/2 hour meeting centered around Keystone.

Northdale developer Stephen Dibbs wanted to subtract 305 acres from Lutz-Lake Fern Road west of the Suncoast Parkway; change its land use designation from "agricultural rural" to "suburban mixed use"; revise a long-standing policy of one house per 5 acres; and add 596 homes and 175,000 square feet of commercial space.

At issue was the timing of Dibbs' purchase. He bought the land in 2004, after the Keystone Odessa Community Plan went into effect in 2001. The plan strictly prohibits the sort of development Dibbs had in mind.

"Had the applicant done his due diligence or wanted to fit into Keystone, he would have known what the community wanted and what the community didn't want," said Barbara Dowling, recording secretary for the Keystone Civic Association. "Keystone has not wavered in its vision and it does not today. We want to be rural."

Not true, said representatives for Dibbs. Pointing to high land densities north, south and east of Keystone, land planner Steve Allison said, "This area is not rural in nature; it's suburban."

Commissioners, however, couldn't ignore the divergent paths of Dibbs' plan and the community's. The latter took years to develop and ratify.

Nor could they ignore the sea of neon green Keystone Civic Association T-shirts that filled the back half of County Center's 26th-floor conference room. The more than 30 homeowners affixed to their chests stickers that read: STOP! IT'S INCONSISTENT! DENY IT!

Four more times, commissioners did just that.

"If you want to live in the country, there has to be some country," said Commissioner Terri Cobb, who lives in Keystone. "I am so not against development, but I do believe there has to be areas where people can live without development encroaching on them."

The planning staff's recommendations now go to the County Commission, which will have the final say. It is scheduled to vote on the proposed amendments Feb. 7.

Rodney Thrash can be reached at rthrash@sptimes.com or 813 269-5303.