A Hillsborough County hearing master has recommended approval of a rezoning proposal to allow a charter school on 62 wooded acres off Sunset Lane.
The June 4 recommendation by the land-use hearing officer, Steve Luce, is a recommendation to the Hillsborough County Commission, scheduled to consider the rezoning in July.
The 100 people at the May 14 hearing before Luce were split almost evenly on the request by the operator of Learning Gate Community School to build a second school, for grades six through 12.
Objections to the plan for the school east of U.S. 41 and north of Sunset Lane primarily focus on additional traffic a school for 1,000 students would bring to the neighborhood's rural roads. Environmental concerns include additional pumping adversely affecting lake levels and creating sinkholes and storm water runoff polluting the site's 22 acres of wetlands.
Supporters say the request by nearby Learning Gate, which emphasizes an environmental curriculum, will provide capable stewardship of now-vacant land destined for development. Start and dismissal times will be staggered over 45 minutes to reduce student traffic effects, Learning Gate Principal Patti Girard has said.
Luce's 11-page report finds "substantial competent evidence in support" of the zoning change has been provided by the staffs of both the county Development Services Department and Planning Commission. The rezoning is consistent with Hillsborough's comprehensive plan and the county's Land Development Code special-use standards, he determined. Additionally, he said, the Lutz Civic Association finds the proposal acceptable.
The hearing officer stated the request meets the Lutz Community Plan stipulation that high schools be on major roads. "The school not only has direct access to U.S. 41 (a six-lane arterial), the site has an access with Sunset Lane, a two-lane collector shown on the [Metropolitan Planning Organization] Cost Affordable Plan."
Addressing traffic concerns, the hearing officer recommends Sunset Lane access be built to make left turns onto campus impossible. "It is found that restricting the Sunset Lane driveway connection turning movement will discourage students and parents arriving from the north and south along U.S. 41 from turning on to Sunset Lane," he wrote. The developer must construct the right-turn lane on westbound Sunset Lane, he added.
Luce said the proposed setbacks are compatible with the comprehensive plan and, if possible, the campus should connect to county sewer lines. If service in unavailable, existing requirements of the county Department of Environmental Regulation and Southwest Florida Water Management District will address effects of pumping, stormwater and septic tanks, he said.