Starling Residents Balk at Plans to Build Soccer Fields
More than 20 residents in the Starling neighborhood in FishHawk Ranch were on hand at a public meeting to discuss expanding the FishHawk Sports Complex.
While soccer parents and players praised Hillsborough County's plan to add five soccer field to the FishHawk Sports Complex, residents of the nearby Starling neighborhood gave the plan a thumbs down, saying it would disrupt their lifestyle and lower their property values.
Director of Hillsborough County Parks, Recreation and Conservation Mark Thornton addressed a full house in Randall Middle School's cafeteria Wednesday, Dec. 14, presenting plans to expand the FishHawk Sports Complex off FishHawk Boulevard, where 4,000 children play baseball, softbal, soccer, football and lacrosse.
Using land donated to the parks department by Newland Communities, the community's developer, the county wants to add five soccer fields and a dog park to the west of the existing sports complex.
Scott Powers, president of FishHawk Sports, said the expansion is necessary to accommodate the burgeoning sports program at the complex where players of various sports compete for field time.
The sports complex is currently at 180 percent capacity, according to Thornton.
"We have a capacity issue here, and we can't have you turning kids away," he said.
However, the $2.8 million expansion to be constructed with impact fees didn't sit well with Starling residents whose homes would back up to the proposed soccer fields.
Starling residents protested the plan, saying they were never told that plans for soccer fields were in the works when they purchased their homes. In fact, they were told that the area behind their homes was a conservation area, and they paid a premium for their lots.
Starling Water Drive resident Bob Coy, whose home backs up to a site designated for a new library, was concerned about how the lighted fields would impact him.
"Everybody in this area is going to oppose this with all we've got," said Coy.
Thornton explained that the parks department would use special surface lighting that would light only the fields. The lights are more expensive to install, he said, but ensure there's no spill over onto surrounding properties.
"It's the best lighting on the market. We've built a soccer complex in Lutz that was as close as 50 feet from the property line using this lighting," he said.
Other residents expressed concern about losing the treeline that backs up to their properties.
Thornton said the county would maintain the treeline in addition to putting up a fence to buffer the fields.
"This park expansion has been part of FishHawk's plans for years," he noted.
However, resident Steven Lebon said Starling residents were oblivious to these plans, noting plans for the expansion were never mentioned when they purchased their lots.
"Nobody here would be clapping if it were in your backyard," he said. "This borders on being bamboozled. We would never have bought here if we'd known the plan. You're going to force people out of their homes."
Others Favor the Park Expansion
Nevertheless, a number of residents were on hand to speak in favor of the expansion including Derrick Row, who coaches the FishHawk Youth 13 girls team.
"We are grateful for what the county is doing," he said. "These kids have done an amazing job, but they can't practice without lights. We need the space and we really appreciate it."
Darcie Heinrichs, a member of the U15 Select Girls team, agreed.
"Soccer is like our life," she said. "Right now we have to practice on fields we share with three other sports. It's hard to get the opportunity that we need. These fields would improve our team's practice time."
Karen Tarig of Starling said she doesn't object to soccer, per se. She just wants the fields built elsewhere.
"My two daughters play on these fields and I recognize the need to expand," she said. "But our security and quality of life will be directly impacted. The parking lot for these fields is going to abut my yard."
"My concern is traffic," said Starling resident Grace Comello. "From 5 to 7 p.m., FishHawk Boulevard is completely backed up. You can't get out of Starling in either direction. And in the past two months, there's been a lot more accidents on that road."
Starling resident John Gustafson suggested a compromise, reducing the number of field to four, eliminating the dog park and moving the parking lot to where the dog park was going to be built.
"That way, you minimize the impact to the community," he said.
Thornton said he sympathized with the residents' concerns.
"I don't want you to think this is a done deal," he said. "I find it unacceptable that you guys didn't know about this plan so we'll redo it and make some tweaks.
One alternative he plans to explore is seeing if he can exchange the lot next to Starling for another conservation lot located behind Newsome High School, directly south of the current sports complex.
"It's now designated conservation area but I'll look into it and see if we can make a trade," he said. "It may even allow us to get more fields in."
"If we can do that," said Lebon, "everybody wins."
Thornton said he'll return to the residents with a new plan in mid-January.