That’s the message from Tampa’s City Council, which is tapping the brakes – something quite familiar to New Tampa residents trying to get around our already congested roads — on allowing any more new homes to be built in K-Bar Ranch, at least until there is a way for the people that buy those homes to leave the community in their automobiles.
Ideally, the city says, connector roads into Pasco County would help reduce some of the transportation issues facing New Tampa.
At the City Council’s May 3 meeting in downtown Tampa, District 7’s Luis Viera led the charge have the Council postpone a decision to allow 698 more homes to be built in K-Bar Ranch, located in the northeast corner of New Tampa between Kinnan St. and Morris Bridge Rd.
A final vote is scheduled for Thursday, June 28.
Pasco has concluded it’s Wesley Chapel Roadway Connection study by then, which is expected to clarify some of Tampa’s issues.
That study, commissioned more than a year ago, is looking at three connections between Tampa and Wesley Chapel — at Kinnan St.-Mansfield Blvd., at K-Bar Ranch Pkwy. and Meadow Pointe Blvd., and at a two-way connection where Wyndfields Blvd. would connect to K-Bar Ranch Pkwy. as well as to Morris Bridge Rd.
Until they are agreed to, Viera says new homes will just exacerbate a major problem in the area, where residents currently only have one road (Kinnan St.) out of K-Bar Ranch.
Any connections are dependent upon the City of Tampa and Hillsborough County finding a solution to the decade-long standoff with Pasco County, which has been resistant to the idea of connecting Kinnan St. to Mansfield Blvd.
Negotiations have been, at times, very contentious.
“The way I see this is, we have a constant crisis in the New Tampa area and it’s not just the things we’ve heard today (about traffic),” Viera said at the May 3 meeting. “This is really a crisis of governments not really working together.”
Viera was the only council member who opposed the plan to build more homes in K-Bar Ranch when the first reading of the plan was held in April. But, between then and May 3, he gained an ally in District 2 councilman Charlie Miranda.
“Although I supported this the first reading, I was hoping between the first and second reading Pasco would come out of its coma,” Miranda said. “Evidently, it has not.”
Miranda lamented the speed of development in the current economic environment, without the sufficient infrastructure to support it. Those two things, he said, need to go hand in hand.
“It’s a problem for the whole area, the whole city, they whole county, the whole state, the whole country,” Miranda said. “When you do not invest in infrastructure, something is going to give….we can’t continue to have prosperity with no parking or transportation.”
The decision to delay any further development in K-Bar Ranch was greeted with a clap of the hands by Craig Margelowsky, the president of Heron Preserve in K-Bar Ranch.
“Nobody wants it,” he says of more development. “Not without the roads.”
K-Bar Ranch already has 700 homes built, with another 500 or so already approved and coming. If M/I Homes, the developer, is successful in gaining approval for another 700, more than 2,000 homes will complete K-Bar and add thousands of cars to New Tampa’s already congested roads.
A member of the New Tampa Council, Margelowsky has long been a proponent of making the connection between Kinnan St. and Mansfield Blvd., as well as pushing for speedier construction of K-Bar Ranch Pkwy., which will run from Kinnan St. east to Morris Bridge Rd. Because morning traffic currently only has one road out of K-Bar Ranch, it backs up to the point of taking residents 10-15 minutes just to get out of their neighborhoods.
An accident last month near Pride Elementary blocked traffic for 45 minutes. And last summer, Margelowsky said there were traffic jams during Hurricane Irma evacuations.
“There’s a choke point there,” he says. “There was nothing anyone could do.”
Margelowsky says he warned the city and developers last year that the roads in and around K-Bar Ranch cannot support any new homes. He told the Tampa City Council, “We can’t get out”, and asked that before issuing any more certificates of occupancy (COs), that K-Bar Ranch Pkwy. should first have to be completed out to Kinnan St.
COs, however, were issued in March of 2017 he says, but the parkway wasn’t completed to Kinnan until two months ago.
“We have 1,200 homes, and we still don’t have two exits out,” Margelowsky says. “We have Kinnan. What are we supposed to do?”
Connecting Kinnan St. and Mansfield Blvd. has been argued as one solution, but the City of Tampa is now demanding that all three connections be made.
If not, no more homes in K-Bar Ranch.
“We need to connect them all,” said Melanie Calloway, the senior transportation planning engineer for Tampa. She said the city is stipulating that if Meadow Pointe Blvd. is connected to K-Bar Ranch Pkwy — as they believe Pasco desires, — “then Kinnan gets done at the same time.”
If Pasco does not agree, then the Wyndfields Blvd. extension connections to K-Bar Ranch Pkwy. and Morris Bridge Rd. — connections that Pasco officials want to see built — will not be considered.
“We hope that it gets done,” Calloway said. “We can’t make another municipality connect to our roadways. But, we try our best to let them know we are open. All connections. Not just pick and choose. It is important for traffic distribution.”
No one on the Tampa side seems overly optimistic that all of the connections can be agreed to, but all fingers at the May 3 meeting pointed to Pasco County for being at fault.
Attorney Donna Feldman, who is representing M/I Homes, the developer, said the City of Tampa has gone out of its way to get the connections made, but Pasco “is really standing in the way.”
Feldman pointed out that the two counties were able to work together on a Sunlake Blvd. extension from Land O’Lakes in Pasco County into Hillsborough a few years ago, but can’t solve their current quandary.
“That was done cooperatively,” Feldman said. “Okay, Pasco, so what’s wrong with these? That’s the question.”
Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, who says he has worked on connecting Kinnan-Mansfield for a decade, said that years ago, Pasco County commissioners agreed to make the Kinnan-Manfield connection.
He said at the time, he had stats showing that large numbers of Pasco County residents were flocking to New Tampa to use the recreation center, library and parks.
However, as Pasco County Dist. 2 commissioner Mike Moore has noted, the tide has turned. Because of the massive growth along the northern end of Mansfield Blvd., in Wiregrass Ranch and along S.R. 56, he doesn’t think Meadow Pointe’s residents desire or need the connection to be made anymore.
And despite the City of Tampa’s claims, he says it is Tampa that has declined to work with Pasco in the past, perhaps missing its chance.
Even at a time when metropolitan planning organizations and transportation boards in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties seem to be urging regional cooperation and connectivity, the gap between Kinnan St. and Mansfield Blvd. continues to be more of a cavernous valley than the 30-foot patch of grass, dirt and trash that remains there.