By Tamas Mondovics
If Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham (District 4) was not fully aware of the public will against the proposed Big Box and residential development in the Bloomingdale community located next to the Bloomingdale Regional library, after the meeting with residents, he is now.
The Brandon Recreation Center on Sadie St. was filled to capacity as residents, many of whom had to take time off work just to make the meeting on time, occupied the more than 450 seats in hopes of making their concerns known and to hear their government representative’s take on what has now become a community-wide issue.
In hopes of making a few things clear, County Attorney, Adam Gormley, braved the crowd and after giving a brief explanation of his take on what cannot be done, including the property’s 2003 re-zoning, which he said “cannot be undone,” clearly only angered those present even more.
Gormley’s efforts prompted Higginbotham to give his explanation on how things got to this point of the game, which seemed to have done nothing more than validate residents’ concerns and the meetings merit, which most in attendance felt was months overdue.
The subject matter and what residents continually oppose is the Bloomingdale MUD (Mixed Use Development) proposed by Redstone Properties Inc., which involves plans for a 158,800 sq. ft. big box store, most believe to be a Wal-mart, with 720 proposed number of parking spaces, five out-parcels as well as a residential complex sporting 261 apartments, has not changed.
For the first time since the project has become known, residents learned, through the use of slides, about what county officials say the development was supposed to look like; the appearance of an upscale Winthrop-like shopping center, a far cry from what the developer is now in the process of seeking site approval.
Higginbotham mentioned that he had invited the developer, Redstone Properties, and its attorney, David Singer, to join him for the meeting, but said, “Mr. Singer said it would not be advantageous to his client to attend tonight.”
It is safe to say that the comments, which residents had three minutes each to make, put things in perceptive, as they drew attention not only to what some residents called a ‘back-door” or “behind their back” process, specifically referring to the property’s 2011 status change, but also to what they say is the project’s clear carelessness toward the actual needs of the community.
Bloomingdale resident and representative of the Bloomingdale Homeowners Association, George May, asked Higginbotham what the outcome of saying ‘No go’ if the developer does not submit final plans that look like the upscale Winthrop-like proposal.
“That’s a good question,” Higginbotham replied, adding that he did not know what the legal basis was for that, but that it was a valid point and is something he intends to bring up with the developer the following morning.
At meeting’s end, Higginbotham spoke to residents in hopes of assuring them of the meeting’s success.
“You didn’t need the meeting tonight to get my attention,” he said. “But you got my attention.”
He added that the site plans are due from the developer by August, and that without its timely submission, the developer would have to start the approval process all over again.
“If we have to go back and find a way to right wrongs, we will do that,” he said, prompting a rousing round of applause.
CAN-DO is encouraging residents to contact their county commissioners, including Higginbotham, and sign the petition “Wal-mart: Stop Plans to Build a Supercenter in Valrico, Florida” online at www.change.org and linked from CAN-DO’s website, www.bloomingdalebigbox.com.
For more information, visit www.bloomingdalebigbox.com or www.facebook.com/bloomingdalebigbox.