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Wal-Mart tells Tarpon Springs it still plans to build a supercenter on the Anclote River

TARPON SPRINGS — Not so fast, all you Wal-Mart opponents. Don't breathe easy just yet.

After months of silence, Wal-Mart has announced it intends to move forward with plans for a 203,000-square-foot supercenter on the banks of the Anclote River.

Wal-Mart attorney David Theriaque did not return a call for comment Tuesday, but in a recent memo to the city he said the company is considering site plan revisions to deal with an active eagle's nest on the property.

"Wal-Mart cannot state when it will conclude its evaluation process, as the global recession certainly plays a factor in the viability of certain options," the memo said. "However, Wal-Mart still intends to proceed with its desire to construct a Supercenter on its property in Tarpon Springs."

Mayor Beverley Billiris said Tuesday she wasn't surprised, as company officials had previously told her they intended to hold onto the property until the economy rebounds.

Wal-Mart officials were dealt a blow in October when the City Commission voted 3-2 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.

The decision meant that Wal-Mart would have to do more impact studies, go through another concurrency review and appear at more site plan hearings.

In November, company officials said they were putting their development plans on hold, in part due to the weak economy.

Since then, the company has let its application for a building permit expire and has not approached the city with a revised site plan.

Because of the lack of action, the city could determine that Wal-Mart has failed to comply with the terms of its development agreement by not proceeding in a timely fashion. But doing so would not preclude the company from developing the land in the future, City Attorney Jim Yacavone said in an April memo to city commissioners.

The action would simply nullify the agreement, including amenities the company had offered to the city like a kayak launch area, nature trail and money for a traffic light.

"All that revoking the development agreement will do is remove Wal-Mart's obligations to provide the benefits to the city that it agreed to provide," Yacavone said in the memo.

That would be unfortunate, Billiris said.

"We lose everything," Billiris said. "That's the sad part because I don't think they'll be that amicable the next time around."

For nearly five years, Wal-Mart faced ardent opposition from local activists who said the proposed supercenter would damage the environmentally sensitive site, wreak havoc on traffic and hurt local businesses.

When the company announced it was holding off on its plans, city and county leaders said they'd like to find the funds to buy the 74-acre property and turn it into a park or preserve.

Wal-Mart opponent Chris Hrabovsky said Tuesday he's not so sure that won't still happen someday. The city is working on an ordinance to protect bald eagle habitats, and local activists remain committed to scrutinizing the project every step of the way, he said.

"We live there," he said, "so we'll always be keeping our eyes on it."

Rita Farlow can be reached at (727) 445-4157 or farlow@sptimes.com.

Wal-Mart tells Tarpon Springs it still plans to build a supercenter on the Anclote River 05/05/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 5, 2009 8:01pm]
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