Some residents in the Keystone area of northwest Hillsborough County say they did not know a major housing development was about to encroach on their rural community until they saw survey sticks being placed in the ground in late February.

What You Need To Know

  • The Patterson Road Residential project will bring 194 homes to the Keystone area

  • The planned development conflicts with the Keystone-Odessa Community Plan that was approved by Hillsborough County officials in 2001. However, the planned development was originally approved by the County Commission in 1991

  • Developer Taylor Morrison was recently fined after trees were cleared without the proper permit

  • More Hillsborough County headlines

“There have been no meetings, no notifications of any kind that anything was going to happen,” said longtime resident Jeannie Holton. “Everybody said, ‘There’s not really anything that they can do.’ And of course, that’s hard to believe, isn’t it?”

Residents say they are confused and anger because the planned development of 194 homes on 209 acres bypasses the Keystone-Odessa Community Plan approved by the Hillsborough Commissioners in 2001 — which says that there should only be one unit built per five acres.  

The planned development, though, was originally approved by the County Commission a full decade before, in 1991. That document, which allowed for the rezoning of the land from agriculture to planned development, says that the development “shall not exceed a density of one dwelling unit per gross acre.”

“When entitlements are made decades ago, even if they were made two years ago, those are permanent," said Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp. "They can never be changed. That’s why any land use decisions we make are extraordinarily critical.”

A Hillsborough County official adds that the county’s Land Development Code provides that the current standards in Keystone "do not apply to previously planned developments, which includes the Patterson Road Residential project."

Kemp, who was strongly opposed by the development industry in 2020 during her successful bid for reelection, said that the current board of county commissioners would never have approved a planned development like the one being built in Keystone.

But that’s of little solace for residents like Holton, who moved to the area in 2006 specifically for the rural lifestyle.

“I just wanted to have part of my life where I wasn’t in the city,” she said late last month while sitting on a chair on her backyard deck which overlooks Lake Echo. “Where I was away and could enjoy nature and could appreciate — well, just exactly what we have here. It’s just a rural lifestyle, less traffic.

"I didn’t want to take a half-an-hour just to get out of my neighborhood, and just really wanted to enjoy the water, (it's) cleaner.  You know, all the quality of life issues that everybody really wants, you know? Some people like an urban lifestyle — and I did, too. But the rural lifestyle is something that everybody should have the chance to enjoy.”

“This is such a pristine gem for Hillsborough County,” added Clara Lawhead, a neighbor who’s lived in the community for 42 years. “We are very unique. We are a country community. And we don’t want to become suburban.”

The project is in the rural service area of unincorporated Hillsborough County and includes public water and wastewater service. County officials say that such infrastructure isn’t typically allowed in the rural service area, but the planned development includes a requirement that the development be served by public water and wastewater at the developer’s expense.

But residents like Holton don’t want that infrastructure, saying it would not be an improvement from the clean water they enjoy currently.

“I have brand new septic tanks," she said. "I have an air infiltration system on my water system, I have no chemicals in my water."

Residents also fear that the housing project poses environmental risks that the county has invested to protect in the region in recent years, including the purchase of 543 acres of land just east of the Brooker Creek Preserve for more than $11 million in 2020 through its environmental preservation program (ELAPP) to create a wildlife habitat corridor. 

Jeff Bakshis, the owner of the Keystone Farmers Market in Odessa, said he was “blown away” when he learned about the new development. 

“It’s an important part of this region in that a lot of the water being supplied to Pinellas County and Hillsborough County is coming from right here so," he said. "I just don’t understand how they’re weighing the consequences of destroying part of the headwaters of the Brooker Creek out here in the wellfields to make room for houses when we need that water for other people."

The development group building the new homes, Taylor Morrison, had a stop and desist order placed on them in late April by the county that lasted more than a week after it was discovered that they had cleared a number of trees before the final construction permit had been issued.

County officials did not say how many trees had been cleared without a proper permit, but said that the builder had removed 4,766 inches DBH (diameter at breast height) of trees on sight. The developers were informed that they needed to either replant those trees or pay a fine of $309,790.

“Although the work was briefly paused, no trees were cleared outside of the permit limits and the plan for the site meets all zoning requirements,” a spokesperson for Taylor Morrison Florida Operations told Spectrum Bay News 9. 

Hillsborough County spokeswoman Hilary Zalla said on Monday that how Taylor Morrison ultimately would resolve the issue “is still pending.”

“The plans for the project provide for some replacement inches but not the full amount we identified,” she said.

Holton told Spectrum Bay News 9 on Monday that the citizens in Keystone remain upset.

"This is a failure on the part of our Hillsborough County Government to follow our rules, protect our environment, our water source, (and to) represent and inform us," she wrote in a text message.

Although today it is Keystone residents who are unhappy about a planned development that doesn’t conform to current local standards, Kemp warned  that the issue could pop up in another community in Hillsborough County.

“This unfortunately won’t be the only area where entitlements were given decades ago that aren’t reversible,” she said.“We have growth coming in at an alarming rate. Alarming. And we’re doing everything we can to have smart growth and slow growth.”

Listed below is the full statement sent to Spectrum Bay News 9 from Taylor Morrison Florida Operations:

"Taylor Morrison is pleased to have the opportunity to develop a community in the Keystone area and we are working to ensure that it will complement the natural elements and beauty of the surrounding properties. We also hope to work with the civic association to ensure a successful relationship. We did receive a stop work order from Hillsborough County on April 26, 2022, in connection with this project. Prior to the site work starting, the County’s Natural Resources department had already reviewed and approved the permit plans, however, the final construction permit had not been issued. Although the work was briefly paused, no trees were cleared outside of the permit limits and the plan for the site meets all zoning requirements. 

“We believe there is some confusion regarding zoning for this property which falls outside of the 2001 overlay zone. The community plans are in full accordance with zoning and it is being built based on the zoning that applies specifically to this site location. We regret the timing error on the site work and we are working with the applicable County authorities to ensure we timely address the matter. We have since received our full site permit from the County and have resumed our development activity with the County’s approval. Taylor Morrison will continue to closely coordinate with the County under their guidance and appreciates their diligence in this matter.

“We continue to work closely with the County on all details.”