Sunday, June 24, 2018
Politics

Hillsborough commissioners reject proposed Carrollwood Walmart

TAMPA — Residents of the Carrollwood area applauded a decision by Hillsborough County commissioners Tuesday to block a new Walmart Neighborhood Market from opening on N Dale Mabry Highway — for now.

The 6-0 decision by commissioners rejected a request by developers of the proposed project to increase the amount of commercial construction that could take place on the 10.4-acre parcel at Floyd Road and Dale Mabry.

They said the proposed development was not compatible with nearby neighborhoods.

An overflow crowd of more than 100 residents from the area, many wearing red shirts and arriving by rented bus, burst into applause after the vote.

"We're thrilled, elated," said Leah Wooten, an organizing member of the 813CARe, a group composed of representatives of surrounding neighborhood groups and business owners. The acronym CARe stands for Carrollwood Against Rezoning.

The unanimous vote from the largely Republican, reputedly prodevelopment commission — Democrat Les Miller was out sick — was somewhat of a surprise. County staff-level planners and the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission had said the zoning modification would comply with growth rules and a hearing officer had recommended approval.

The proposed location on the east side of Dale Mabry north of Linebaugh Avenue is the site of the former Hudson Nursery and is one of the last leafy stretches of the highway south of Lutz. Current zoning on the property calls for a mix of commercial, office and residential construction, with the emphasis on offices.

Developers were seeking permission to make it strictly commercial, in keeping with the mass of retail stores and restaurants that line the road. Plans called for construction of a 41,080-square-foot Walmart Neighborhood Market, the downsized, grocery-specializing version of the more commonly known big-box megachain. The proposal also included a 6,119-square-foot Wawa convenience store.

Representatives for Walmart and developer Brightwork Acquisitions LLC said they had taken steps to make the project blend with what exists nearby. A wetland buffers the site from residents to the east and an 8-foot wall was planned.

Walmart lawyer Jim Porter said the development would clean up pollution on the property from years of fertilization and said the property is slated for intense development anyway.

"Taking a step back, we're asking permission to add a grocery store on Dale Mabry Highway, and a convenience store," he said.

Residents have protested near the property periodically for months. They submitted petition signatures by the hundreds.

They said the project would open a new way for drivers to cut through their neighborhoods in search of shortcuts between major roadways. They also said traffic from the Walmart and a planned traffic signal for the main entrance at Floyd Road would further clog already-choked Dale Mabry.

Developers can appeal the commission's decision in court, and some commissioners expressed concern that they could prevail. Attempts to reach representatives of the developer and Walmart after the meeting were unsuccessful.

In reviewing zoning requests, commissioners are supposed to reach their decision based on facts: In this case, either the proposal meets guidelines of the county's growth guidebook, known as its comprehensive plan, or it doesn't. They're not supposed to base decisions on perceptions of public sentiment.

Commissioner Al Higginbotham said those two things posed a conflict Tuesday.

"We as commissioners have two duties, one to the public and the other to uphold the law," Higginbotham said. "I felt it was important to respond to the sentiment of the public.

"I think they not only go to court," he said of the developers, "but they prevail."

Times staff writer Elizabeth Parker contributed to this report. Bill Varian can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3387.

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