54-acre artificial lake is okayed

Despite restrictions, opponents say they may appeal the ruling.

By Bill Coats, Times Staff Writer
Published February 14, 2008

KEYSTONE - A developer finally has won approval to dig 2.5-million cubic yards of dirt near Lutz-Lake Fern Road, creating a 54-acre lake.

But this week's decision by a Hillsborough County land-use hearing officer limits the travel of dump trucks on Lutz-Lake Fern so much that nearly all of the dirt eventually will be trucked about 1,000 feet east to the Suncoast Parkway, and from there to points north and south.

To respect the rural nature of Keystone, the trucks were banned from going west on Lutz-Lake Fern. To protect children, trucks won't travel east past the Suncoast while Martinez Middle School, McKitrick Elementary School or the future Steinbrenner High School are in session. To preserve quiet nights, excavation must close between 6 p.m. and 7 a.m.

And somebody will have to sweep dirt off the road at the end of each workday.

Despite those restrictions, opponents aren't happy, said Denise Layne of Lutz, who coordinated their efforts. They may appeal.

Layne charged that hearing officer Harold Youmans and county staffers gave developer Stephen Dibbs a variety of undue procedural breaks.

Dibbs' attorney, Vin Marchetti, suggested Layne and other opponents were given too much say-so in two hearings Youmans held. Marchetti said he still was studying Youmans' 19-page decision, but considered it fair.

Marchetti said excavations could begin this summer.

Dibbs has been one of Hillsborough's most politically active developershostingfundraisers for County Commissioners Brian Blair and Ken Hagan.

Last year, Dibbs and Blair led an effort to abolish the Environmental Protection Commission's wetlands program. A public outcry ensued, so commissioners accepted several EPC changes aimed at streamlining the process for destroying wetlands.

But in the case of the Keystone excavation, commissioners have no direct say. Youmans functioned like a judge. Any appeal would go to an appointed appeals board, and from there to circuit court.

The excavation is planned just south of the Hillsborough-Pasco county line, and just west of the Suncoast. Dibbs owns 320 acres there. He could sell dirt for up to 10 years. Afterward, he plans to develop houses.

How many houses will be a County Commission decision, scheduled for Feb. 28.

Dibbs wants to amend Hillsborough's long-range growth plan, which requires that the area remain rural, with one house per 5 acres. Dibbs proposes 596 houses and a shopping center.

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