TARPON SPRINGS — The city's Planning and Zoning Board threw a curveball last week when it voted to recommend denial of changes to Wal-Mart's site plan for a supercenter proposed for the banks of the Anclote River. But the board's primary justification didn't center on the specifics of the site plan changes. Instead, the board decided 4-2 that the company's certificate of concurrency had expired. When city commissioners take up the issue tonight, they'll first consider whether the certificate is valid before reviewing the site plan. So what exactly is a certificate of concurrency and why is it suddenly an issue in the retail giant's four-year bid to get a store built in Tarpon Springs?
What is concurrency?
Concurrency means infrastructure such as roads, sewers and water systems need to exist at a level to sustain the needs of the development. Put simply, it means that facilities and services need to keep up with growth.
Where did it come from?
Concurrency is a provision of the state's Growth Management Act, adopted by the Florida Legislature in 1985. Enacted to rein in over-development and guide growth, the act requires local governments to have comprehensive plans explaining how they will accommodate growth in their jurisdictions. The act officially took effect in Pinellas in 1990.
How does concurrency work?
In Tarpon Springs, a certificate of concurrency is valid for one year from the date of issuance unless an extended period is approved by city commissioners during site plan review. In Wal-Mart's case, the city determined the company met concurrency requirements in January 2005, when the commission voted 3-2 to approve Wal-Mart's original site plan.
So, didn't Wal-Mart's certificate of concurrency expire in January 2006?
Opponents say yes, but the city staff says the City Commission extended concurrency when it approved the site plan and development agreement. A portion of the agreement gives Wal-Mart 10 years to receive a certificate of occupancy, and city attorney Jim Yacavone, has determined this allows for a concurrency extension.
Why is the board considering this?
Wal-Mart opponents have long argued the certificate was expired. Earlier this month, City Commissioner Peter Dalacos asked that the commission consider the issue during the same public hearing as the amended site plan review.
Why does this matter?
If city commissioners agree with the Planning and Zoning Board, which acts in an advisory role, Wal-Mart would be required to go through more public hearings on the concurrency issue.
Will the commission still discuss the site plan changes tonight?
That's hard to say. If it determines the certificate is valid, it will proceed with the site plan review. If it determines it's expired, it could still go forward with site plan review, ask to defer the matter or reschedule another hearing to consider the site plan changes and concurrency issues at the same time.
What are the site plan changes commissioners are scheduled to review?
Wal-Mart has removed some elements from the 74-acre site, including a drive-through pharmacy, tire lube express and liquor store. The river buffer has been extended from 30 to 50 feet and a driveway at the south end of the property has been realigned. Encroachments into the river and wetlands buffers for stormwater control have been added, an additional entrance was added and the company has requested a land use change from preservation to recreational use where a wetland mitigation area was redesigned to include a nature trail.
Rita Farlow, Times staff writer