By Tamas Mondovics
With numbers reaching close to 200, Bloomingdale area residents showed up in force to attend a recent meeting in order to learn, voice their disapproval and to devise a strategy to fight a proposed mixed-use development (MUD) project planned in the heart of their neighborhood on Bloomingdale Ave. near Lithia Pinecrest Rd., adjacent to the Bloomingdale Library.
Just two weeks ago, a handful of residents from the Lithia Oaks community in Valrico, which sits adjacent to the development in question, began the effort to halt the approval of the project, which involves plans for a 158,800 sq. ft. big box store—thought to be a Wal-mart—with 720 proposed number of parking spaces, five out-parcels as well as a residential complex sporting 261 apartments.
Right from the meeting’s start, the community’s message to local government officials, the county commissioner and the developer, Redstone Properties Inc., was clear: “No big box store, no such development. Not this time, not this way.”
Step-by-step, the meeting addressed each issue of concern. That list included what many believe to be perhaps the biggest problem: the increased traffic. Also mentioned were the impact on home values, small businesses, pollution, as well as destruction of surrounding wetlands.
The effort is led by members of the Lithia Oaks HOA, which is now joined by a number of surrounding HOA’s, all of whom are urging fellow residents to unite and get involved by flooding their government representatives with the same message.
“We don’t want this development in our backyard,” said long-time Lithia Oaks resident, Dan Grant, who also emphasized his concern over the county’s reaction to resident’s questions about the project.
“Each time we ask for more information, the answer is helpful, but non-committal,” Grant said. Many during the meeting expressed their unhappiness over the lack of clear answers from their county government representatives.
Bloomingdale area resident, Jeremy Monette, spoke at length to the huge crowd, which grew 10 times larger since the first meeting, drawing attention to what he felt was a sound direction to pursue, while shared Grant’s’ sentiments of the county’s apparent, uncooperative behavior.
“To a project which proposes such a giant impact on our community, to not get straightforward answers is just absurd,” Monette said during the meeting. “This project has been artfully crafted so we won’t know what is going on until it is too late.”
As the meeting progressed, residents addressed the mobilization of the various elements of the community, leading to what many agreed was an important topic: the project’s impact on local schools.
“Where is the school board on this issue?” asked Bloomingdale HOA’s President, George May.
As for the potential traffic problems that the development would pose to the already troublesome roadway, May added, “The problem we have is that our local government representatives do not come here to see what it’s like here during rush hour.”
Others with experience in community issues who have joined the effort includes community advocate George Niemann as well as Mark Nash, who recently ran against current District 4 Commissioner, Al Higginbotham.
“You need to call and contact all of the seven commissioners,” Nash urged everyone present.
In closing, Lithia Oaks HOA spokesperson, Fred Brown, emphasized the weight of the effort when he said, “This is going to be a long fight with many hiccups along the way,” he said, but added, “This is about our community and together, we can see this battle all the way through.”
Organizers are seeking a bigger facility to hold their subsequent meetings due to the size of the crowd.
Residents may sign a petition in opposition to the development by logging onto www.change.org.
Information can also be found at https://www.facebook.com/BloomingdaleBigBox?fref=ts.