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Judge orders list of Sierra Club members

The club must give Circuit Judge Greg Holder a list of members living within 5 miles of a proposed project, and a count of their outdoor activities.

By MICHAEL SANDLER

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 30, 2001


TAMPA -- A Hillsborough judge has ruled that a conservation group must count its cyclists, hikers, canoeists and outdoor enthusiasts living within 5 miles of a proposed golf community in New Tampa.

Circuit Judge Greg Holder said this week that the Sierra Club must provide a list with its total members who reside within 5 miles of Grand Hampton.

He also told the group to list the number who participate in specific outdoor activities.

Tampa Realty Associates Inc., a local subsidiary for Toll Brothers, the company planning to build nearly 1,600 homes 931 acres south of County Line Road and west of Bruce B. Downs, is seeking to prove that no one living near the future gated community will be adversely affected by the project.

"What I really want to know is which Sierra Club members hike, which ones bike, which ones canoe and which ones bird-watch," said Lee Atkinson, a Clearwater attorney representing the Pennsylvania developer.

"Then I want to ask them how that will be adversely affected. I don't think a single Sierra CLub member will be able to say they will be adversely affected in a way that is different from the general public."

The environmental group is suing the city of Tampa for approving the project last fall, saying it is not consistent with its comprehensive plan for growth.

The developer intervened in January and has made several legal requests in hopes of having the case dismissed.

Atkinson initially requested a membership list with names, addresses, phone numbers and occupations. Sierra Club attorney Ralf Brookes objected, citing privacy rights.

"There is a right of privacy to join an organization, whether it is the NAACP, the NRA or the Sierra Club," said Brookes.

"You have a right to associate with people, and the U.S. Constitution protects the right to privacy."

The City Council voted 6-1 in July to approve the initial project on 645 acres, despite objections from the Sierra Club.

In the fall, council members approved an additional 286 acres to the project without increasing the number of homes.

The attorneys said Judge Holder has given the parties about a month to sort out the list. Atkinson has also requested complete financial records.

"He left some of that for us to work out," Atkinson said. "They are going to try and provide me some more data, and I am going to wait. If not, we are going to go back and see the judge."

- Michael Sandler can be reached at (813) 226-3472 or sandler@sptimes.com.

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