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3 Women on a Mission: Protecting their piece of paradise from one developer at a time

Urban sprawl and protecting old Florida living
Left to right: Nonie Slaughter, Patty Taylor, Susan Martin.
Posted at 12:21 PM, Jun 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-08 18:29:12-04

TAMPA — Several miles West of Town 'n' Country is a neighborhood full of majestic oaks, wild peacocks, and acres of horse farms. But, the secret of this area is out, and locals tell ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska that developers are looking to cash in.

It is also no secret that Florida is experiencing unprecedented growth. The Tampa Bay region is one of the hottest and now most expensive places to live. ABC Action News asked local leaders, from Sarasota to Tampa to St. Pete, what one of the most critical issues facing us today is, and they answered: affordable housing.

But Nonie Slaughter told Paluska smart growth, when it comes to urban sprawl, and protecting the environment are important too. We met Slaughter at 13001 State Street. A piece of land is up for sale that developer American Homes 4 Rent is requesting the county to rezone. Online records show the company wants to build 22 homes on the nearly 7-acre site. The build-to-rent model is part of an emerging trend in the housing market to help families that can't afford to buy an opportunity to rent the American Dream. However, Slaughter said master-planned communities in their quaint community with one lane in and one lane out isn't the Old Florida living retirement she wanted.

Slaughter and her neighbors Patty Taylor and Susan Martin gave us a tour of the area by foot and golf cart, trying to show us every part of the area they fell in love with.

"Being a fourth-generation Floridian. I'm a nature lover. I love my oak trees. If they develop this property, all the oak trees that are behind me, well, they would be mowed down," Slaughter said. "The runoff will go into the bayou, which could kill many manatees. I think a single-family owner would be much more apt to care about the environment and take care of the environment."

Her neighbors agree.

"I would describe this area as a slice of heaven. It's close to everything. But it's like a hidden secret," Martin said. "Not so hidden as it used to be. But it's, you come back here, and it's peace. It is just calming. I feel like I'm on vacation when I'm in the neighborhood."

The area is in a coastal high hazard area. Martin says flooding is always a concern. In addition, Martin says high tides are always creeping higher. And, a recent master-planned community built up so high to code she says her property was flooded off and on for years. She finally got a lawyer, complained, and said the developer agreed to pay for multiple drains installed on her property.

"It's better; it's much better. But, it's not the way it used to be before they put the fill in," Martin said.

A longtime resident purchased the horse farm next to the land to keep it out of the hands of a developer. And over the years purchased other properties to protect their old Florida lifestyle. But, developers keep coming.

"This is sensitive ground. And the tides are coming up higher and higher," Patty Taylor told Paluska.

We interviewed Taylor from her back deck that overlooks the property. Her concerns aren't what her new view of a massive neighborhood would be. But says it would be the impacts from flooding, the ecosystem, and Copper Creek that runs directly behind her home.

"We know development is going to happen. I mean, that's just the way it is a piece of land. They're going to develop on it. But 22 rental homes. You know, one, it's just too many homes for the plot of land," Taylor said.

The Hillsborough County Planning Commission found the proposed master-planned development inconsistent with the future vision in unincorporated Hillsborough County.

According to county officials, the land-use hearing officer filed a recommendation to deny the rezoning request. However, that isn't a disapproval. The case would still be heard on July 26 at the BOCC hearing unless a continuance or withdrawal occurred.

"I consider this commission to be very, very friendly to preserve in our environment, and not allowing overbuilding in Hillsborough County," Slaughter said.