OPINION: Hillsborough County lets developers steamroll local guidelines

Taylor-Morrison’s development plans for Keystone violate local ordinances but were still approved by the county. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/BOCAAGENCY.COM

Hillsborough County recently approved a plan for the development of Keystone by the company Taylor-Morrison despite this plan violating several local laws and guidelines. On Aug. 17, residents brought a case to the Board of Commissioners to halt this project before it does irreversible damage to their community. 

It’s past time that county commissioners such as Harry Cohen put a stop to this plan, as it clearly violates multiple local laws and guidelines. 

Keystone is a rural community in northwest Hillsborough County, only about half an hour from USF. The residents take pride in the town’s rural and agricultural past and hope to be able to preserve land and nature in their community, as stated by the Keystone Civic Association on its website

“Its continuing desire is to be an open area that values nature above commercialism; dark, star-filled skies at night above the glare of urban lights; and the sound of crickets and frogs above traffic noise,” as stated by the Keystone Civic Association.

Residents of the community have come together to form a group known as Protect Keystone. These 15 residents are asking everyone to contact the Board of County Commissioners and to donate in support of their ongoing lawsuit against Hillsborough County. 

This group is suing the county under Florida Statute 163.3215, which prevents development orders that would go against plans that have been adopted by the local government. These include the Keystone Community Plan and the Unincorporated Hillsborough County Comprehensive Plan, both of which are violated by the Taylor-Morrison development. 

Protect Keystone has outlined 12 specific violations of these plans in their lawsuit, the most significant being a violation of the Keystone Community Plan’s strict density guidelines. 

“We want our open fields. We want our wildlife. We can’t stop people from moving here and building. But our Keystone community plan absolutely addressed one house per five acres. That tries to limit the sprawl. That’s what we want,” Keystone resident Elizabeth Whitein said during an Aug. 18 interview with ABC Action News.

At one house per acre, the Taylor-Morrison development would add five times more residences than what is allowed by the Keystone Community Plan, as stated by the Protect Keystone group. 

Taylor-Morrison has already received a stop work order for this project in the past for illegally removing trees before they were issued a permit to do so. Because of this, they also received a $310,000 fine. However, after a few tweaks to their plan, they were able to proceed without even having to pay the fine. 

Not only is the project in clear violation of local ordinances, but this company has already engaged in shady behavior to try to get ahead on their development.

The Oracle reached out to Taylor-Morrison for comment but received no response at the time of publication. 

The Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners has the power to issue a stop work order on this project, they have done it before. Residents have clearly outlined the harm this will do to their community, and it is time for the county to step in and put a stop to this development.