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Wal-Mart loses vote on store project in Tarpon Springs

TARPON SPRINGS — Wal-Mart is facing more hoops to jump through if it wants to build a store on the Anclote River.

The retail giant suffered another setback when city commissioners decided in a 3-2 vote Tuesday that the project's concurrency certificate had expired. The certificate is required to assure that infrastructure such as roads and sewers can handle the development.

That means Wal-Mart could be forced to do more impact studies, go through another concurrency review and appear at more site plan hearings. The company could also take the matter to court and ask a judge to interpret the legal documents now at the heart of the controversy.

City staff and Wal-Mart argued that city commissioners extended the life of the project's certificate to 10 years in January 2005 when they approved the original site plan and development agreement. Beverley Billiris and Commissioner Chris Alahouzos agreed.

But Vice Mayor Robin Saenger and City Commissioners Peter Dalacos and Susan Slattery said the development agreement wasn't clear on that point.

"I don't think it's a reasonable conclusion to say that anyone on this board would enter into a development agreement that would last 10 years without revisiting concurrency," Saenger said.

Saenger and Dalacos both aired concerns about traffic on the stretch of U.S. 19 south of the Pasco line where the store is planned.

Since 2003, daily trips between Tarpon Avenue and Beckett Way have risen from 59,455 to 72,500, according to the Pinellas Metropolitan Planning Organization. The level of service has dropped from an A rating to an F, said MPO transportation analyst Marc Hanger.

The 203,000-square-foot supercenter would add thousands of trips per day, further degrading the roadway, opponents contend.

Representatives of Concerned Citizens of Tarpon Springs, which opposes the project, have long said they thought the one-year certificate expired in January 2006.

"Thank God, logic prevailed here," said Jane West, an attorney for Concerned Citizens.

Wal-Mart spokesperson Quenta Vettel said company officials would consider their next move.

"We're disappointed. We feel this project has been held hostage for the citizens of Tarpon Springs," Vettel said.

Since the original site plan was approved in January 2005, Wal-Mart has faced several roadblocks, some imposed by highly organized local activists.

One of those — Chris Hrabovsky — said Wednesday that it was "ludicrous" to believe that it was an accident the development agreement was vague on the issue of concurrency.

"(Wal-Mart) wanted all that play room in there and it came back to bite them," he said.

The company may have another issue to work through before its modified site plan is reviewed: Last week, Wal-Mart acknowledged an active bald eagle nest on the property, which could require additional permitting or more revisions to its plan.

Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4162.

Wal-Mart loses vote on store project in Tarpon Springs 10/22/08 [Last modified: Friday, October 24, 2008 5:41pm]
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