TARPON SPRINGS — The four-year Wal-Mart saga is over — at least for now.
Company officials said Friday they were putting on hold plans for a 203,000-square-foot supercenter on the banks of the Anclote River.
But Wal-Mart has no plans to sell the 74-acre site and may come back to the table at a later date, said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Quenta Vettel.
Vettel acknowledged the weak economy was a factor in the decision, but declined to go into further detail.
"We'll monitor the environment in Tarpon Springs over the next few years and determine what we'll do with the site," Vettel said.
Mayor Beverley Billiris said Wal-Mart officials declined her offer Friday to negotiate with the city or county on selling the land.
"We could have looked at making it some kind of a preserve and protecting it forever," she said.
Billiris said she was relieved Wal-Mart officials decided not to mount a legal challenge, a move that could have created financial hardship for the city.
"I think we're incredibly lucky, very, very fortunate, with the evidence they had to sue us that they have chosen not to take that avenue," she said.
Reaction from project opponents was tempered. They called the news a victory, but reaffirmed their vigilance against future development proposals.
"Even if they're waiting for the political winds to change, they have to understand that there are residents … that don't want this type of development in Tarpon," said Dory Larsen, president of Concerned Citizens of Tarpon Springs.
The company let pass a Thursday deadline to appeal last month's City Commission decision that its certificate of concurrency, which ensures infrastructure is maintained at a level to support impacts of development, had expired.
That decision was the last of several hurdles the retail giant had faced since the city approved the project after an all-night meeting in January 2005.
The company was forced to revise its site plan in 2006 to avoid destroying wetlands. The amendments were later deemed major revisions by the city's Board of Adjustment, which meant Wal-Mart had to receive additional approval from the City Commission.
A week before the board's meeting to review the changes, company officials acknowledged the presence of an active bald eagle nest on the property, which required additional permitting and the possibility of further revisions to its site plan.
Not everyone in Tarpon Springs was pleased to learn the project was on hold indefinitely.
Resident David Pearce said he supported it for the jobs, property tax and sales tax revenue it would bring to the community.
"I think we've missed the current opportunity," Pearce said. "I'm afraid it's doomed."
But Concerned Citizen member Harry Batuyios said the decision couldn't have come at a better time, particularly for the city's small businesses.
"I can't think of a finer Christmas present," he said.
Rita Farlow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4162.