Residents Approve County’s Much Needed Sports Complex Expansion Plan

By Tamas Mondovics

It is safe to say that Hillsborough County Parks, Recreation and Conservation director Mark Thornton would love to see every public meeting go as smooth as the one held  last month in connection with the expansion of the FishHawk Sports Complex in Lithia.

After a brief welcome of the approximately 100 or so residents that attended the meeting held at the Palmetto Club at FishHawk Ranch, located at 17004 Dorman Rd. in Lithia, Thornton outlined a new, revised plan, which within minutes put Starling residents at ease.

It was a little less than a year ago when Thornton last stood before many of the same residents, who had voiced their concern over the then proposed installation and location of the five new soccer fields to accommodate the complex’s need.

This time, however, instead of scolding the county for a poorly designed plan, residents approached the microphone to personally thank Thornton, the County as well as Newland Communities for their effort, understanding as well as both financial and moral support on behalf of the Starling community and the need of the local athletes.

“This new plan shows that Hillsborough County can respect the needs of the community,” said Starling resident Jim Ingurgiato. “I want to thank you and thank Newland Communities for working with us and in our behalf.”

Thornton explained that the new plan which will push the soccer fields about 300-400 feet away from the Starling community was a result of much cooperation between FishHawk Ranch developer Newland Communities, the Hillsborough County Parks department and the County Public School Board.

The parks department plans to add four new soccer fields directly north of the existing complex on 15 acres currently owned and donated to the project by Newland Communities; a property that is currently designated for conservation.

Thornton said that in exchange, the property dedicated to the county, west of the complex—the originally planned site of the new soccer fields adjacent to the Starling subdivision—would become a conservation lot with a dedicated habitat for gopher tortoises.

The county also negotiated a deal with the Hillsborough County School District to upgrade two playing fields behind Randall Middle School located just east of the existing sports complex to be used as additional soccer fields with lighting and with Randall having first rights to use as needed.

“I think this is a very good plan and is to everyone’s liking,” said Newland Communities Tampa North Vice President and General Manager Tom Panaseny.

Panaseny explained that although the new plan dose not mean any loss of land for Newland it does mean the cost of about $150,000 as the developer will work preparing the new tortoise habitat.

“The revised plan means a more work for us and some cost but it helps accommodate everyone’s needs,” he said.

Starling resident Jeff Dunlap whose home would have sat right next to the new fields had the original proposal would have been approved, did not hesitate to share his comments of appreciation of the final plan.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Dunlap said.

To move forward the new plan now requires state approval to amend the Development of Regional Impact for FishHawk Ranch.

Thornton said construction of the four new fields could begin and be complete within 18 months, during which time the county will add lighting to the two Randall fields to be usable by no later then  January, 2013.

“I’m excited about the plan, which has come together at the speed of government,” Thornton said.”

The budget for the FishHawk Sports Complex Expansion is approximately $2.8 million and is funded through Parks Impact Fees.

Besides the new fields, the proposed project will support infrastructure, such as utilities, parking, storm water retention, and ancillary buildings.

Or more information about the County’s FishHawk Sports Complex expansion project, please visit www.hillsboroughcounty.org.