Varrea has been in the works for years and has always sparked a divide between the adjacent rural residents and the city’s desire to welcome progress. A map amendment brought to the Planning Board Wednesday morning showed those concerns still linger.
Technical difficulties riddled the first part of the virtual Planning Board meeting Monday morning.
It was the first time the board attempted to host a virtual meeting, but eventually the kinks were worked out and the agenda was rolled out for the public. One of the first items discussed received the most public input: a map amendment for a section of land on the southwest corner of Charlie Taylor Road and Knights Griffin Road.
The privately initiated map amendment was for 89.96 acres located at the corner of the Varrea development, a long-awaited community to be built on the other side of I-4.
It’s a piece of property that has a long and complex history in Plant City. Spanning over 1,000 acres of pasture land north of Knights Griffin Road and west of Charlie Taylor Road, the property was once owned by Bob Graham. In Oct. 2013, the Robert G. Graham Family LP and the David J. Tozlosky Family LP sold the land for $18.1 million to Calgary-based Walton. It became one of the largest land deals in Plant City’s history.
The use of the land was originally approved in 2007 and modified in 2011, but it wasn’t until 2015 when the ball really began rolling on the development. It was then the plan was announced for Varrea to become a high-class neighborhood much like Walden Lake, Lakewood Ranch in Manatee County and FishHawk. Then the project stalled.
The North Park Isle community along Sam Allen Road is expected to help the city shoulder the burden of the growing population. Varrea was intended to help bridge the gap as well with its own shopping center and approximately 2,000 homes. Though it was stalled, the project is still underway and Wednesday’s meeting indicated the engines have begun sputtering again for the massive undertaking to come to fruition.
Diane Chadwick, planning principal with Stantec Consulting Services, represented the applicant and gave a presentation as well as answered questions for the board. She said they have been “very busy” working on a detailed land plan over the past year. The majority of the project has already been approved. Now they’re simply cleaning up the areas they need to and getting all ducks in a row.
Many of the residents who live nearby seemed to accept that “you can’t stop development.” Their concern lies more in the specifics. The main concern of those on the line was water management. Many who live in the area said that Charlie Taylor Road frequently floods. There is runoff that makes the area dangerous to drivers and causes issues with neighboring properties, and they fear the development will worsen those issues without proper management.
“This is a known issue by some and fully understood by all,” Travis Luttrell, a citizen that lives on Charlie Taylor Road, said. He then went on to explain the area is in a pocket of confusion. They are technically in the county, but the city owns much of the land near them. When there is an issue and they call to complain about the dangerous flooding, they are rerouted to three different agencies. It wasn’t until a motorist had an accident and was hospitalized in 2019 that he believes the county finally listened.
“Why did we only call for the last four years and not prior?” he said. “Prior to that, a family lived across the street on Varrea’s property and when the pond began to rise, that family pumped the water back in the natural reserve and nature solved the problem.”
He said he wanted to bring the issue to the attention of the board so they would fight to keep natural resources in place to help tamper down what he believes to be a massive flooding problem in the area.
Others echoed his concern and then brought up another topic: the Lower Green Swamp Preserve.
Many residents from all over the county come to the Preserve to recreate. Some ride horses, others go bird watching or hiking. Charles Hollenkamp said he regularly rides the trails at the preserve and knows many people ride their horses up and down the street toward the entrance. Adding a community of this size nearby will inevitably increase traffic, he said, and he worries the congestion will cause a danger for the motorists, the riders and the horses.
Deborah Boynton said she lives on East Knights Griffin Road and voiced her support of the prior comments and then added her concerns on the wildlife management as a whole at the preserve when this massive community comes across the street.
Chadwick reminded the callers that the development was still in the early planning stages, but Varrea was ultimately approved. The map amendment today was something to change a line so an existing approved commercial entailment could be accommodated on the site.
As for the concerns, she said the drainage is something they have to look at and plan for. There “are rules that require we not make any issue worse,” she said. She also told the callers she was notified of their concerns and already passed the message on to the engineers. A traffic study was required following the 2015 approval and she said it still stands.
The hope is that, come July or August, there will be a hearing so everyone can see a further detailed plan for the community.
The planning board approved the map amendment with a vote of 6-1, with Jeremy Burris as the only dissenter.