The Village at Hunter’s Lake project, which is seeking to have the property located directly across the street from the main entrance to Hunter’s Green on Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. rezoned from community commercial (CC) to mixed use (PD), passed its first hearing before the Tampa City Council.
The City Council approved a number of waiver requests by the developers, including the most important one — adding both a second and third access point from BBD into the development.
The second reading is scheduled for Thursday, June 1, 9:30 a.m., at the Old City Hall on Kennedy Blvd. in downtown Tampa.
If the project is approved, that will pave the way for developers Harrison Bennett Properties and Regency Centers to begin work.
The developers requested the rezoning change for multi-use on the 14 acres of developable land on the 80-acre parcel to accommodate a 30,000-sq.-ft. Cultural Center; a four-story, 241-unit multi-family project called The Haven at Hunter’s Lake; a green grocer; a retail shopping strip center; a restaurant (with a drive-in window) and a community park with a dog park.
At the May 11 meeting before the City Council, the Hunter’s Lake developers requested a waiver to reduce the number of loading zones and parking spots and some slight wetlands reduction, which didn’t spark any debate.
City of Tampa senior planning engineer Melanie Calloway, however, did object to the request for additional access points.
The main entrance into the Village at Hunter’s Lake will be directly across BBD from Hunter’s Green Dr. However, developers want additional access points south of the proposed main entrance (where there is currently a maintenance road) and to the north at Hunter’s Lake Dr., which already leads to Suntrust Bank and LifePoint Church on the east side of BBD.
Calloway pointed out that for the last 20 years, the City of Tampa has been very deliberate and consistent about granting access points on BBD to preserve capacity limits and limit anything detrimental to the roadway.
“We have spent a lot of money (on BBD),’’ she said.
Calloway also noted that other areas in New Tampa along BBD have been developed with fewer access points, like Tampa Palms Area 4 — which has 701 development units, 484 single family units, 400 hotel rooms, 85,000-sq.ft. of commercial and business office — and only three access points along BBD.
“This proposed property has 250 multi-family, 72,000-sq.-ft. of commercial, a cultural center and a dog park,’’ Calloway said. “And they want three access points. We find that being a little bit excessive.”
If an access point at Hunter’s Lake Dr. is approved, the left turn lane at that intersection would be lengthened to reduce traffic backing up. Without that access point, lawyers for the developers argued, drivers who miss the main entrance would have to make a U-turn and traffic would likely back up on northbound BBD. The other concern was that the existing HART bus stop on the southbound side of BBD would create a public safety issue.
“It (the bus stop) would be safer with the access we are proposing,’’ said Steve Henry, a transportation and civil engineer and president of Lincks & Associates. Henry pointed out that Walmart and other smaller locations already have two access points along BBD.
Jeff Cobb, the vice president of the Hunter’s Green Community Association, voiced support for the project, calling it a “Hyde Park-esque effort that will serve, support and enhance New Tampa.”
But, with 5,000 residents and 1,000 visitors a day (according to Cobb), he voiced concern that without a second access point, and the likelihood of traffic backing up at the only left turn into the project, would create problems.
Patrons, he said, would make the decision to turn right at the light at Hunter’s Green, and once inside, make a U-turn to enter the Village at Hunter’s Lake from Hunter’s Green.
“It’s a safety issue,’’ he said. “We think it’s critical you support this second left turn.”
Despite the city’s concerns about additional access points, the City Council ultimately voted 6-0 to approve them (and the rest of the project) and send it to a final reading and public hearing next month.
According to the New Tampa Commercial Overlay District Development Standards, a proposed new access point to BBD, “shall constitute a substantial change to the approved zoning site plan, as well as an amendment to the DRI, where applicable, both of which shall require approval by City Council.”
District 2 Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist, a Hunter’s Green resident, has long championed the project, the jewel of which is the Cultural Center that will be home to the New Tampa Players (NTP), a local theatre troupe. In December, he told NTP that he hoped the Cultural Center could be open by 2019, and was working hard to secure funding.
NTP has been lobbying the county and city of Tampa governments for a Cultural Center since 2000.
The Harrison Bennett Properties proposal was initially approved by the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners by a 7-0 vote in December 2014.
“This has taken a lot of effort over three years,’’ said David Freeman, the president of Harrison Bennett Properties, which also developed The Walk at Highwoods Preserve.
Freeman sees this Village at Hunter’s Lake project as New Tampa’s downtown.
“We’ve got these communities, like Hunter’s Green and Tampa Palms, which individually are great master-planned communities but don’t really work together as a whole. We see this project really as the linchpin to bring everything together.”