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Traffic is worrisome, but barren site is, too

Wal-Mart's decision to scrub a proposed 205,000-square-foot store in Elfers leaves traffic-fearing neighbors thankful, but a barren 26-acre site still in need of redeveloping.

The withdrawn plans for a supercenter at the corner of Grand Boulevard and State Road 54 marks the second time the retailer has scuttled an expansion in Pasco County. Wal-Mart has yet to rekindle plans for a new store in Dade City 18 months after announcing a postponement attributed to a slowdown in the housing market and a corporate strategy to cut its growth rate of new retail space.

Though Pasco County approved the Grand Boulevard site last year after nearly three years of reviews, the proposed traffic counts worried residents in the Virginia City and Colonial Hills neighborhoods. Here's why:

County and state officials are still trying to work out traffic-flow problems from the recently opened Wal-Mart Supercenter in Bayonet Point after neighbors in Leisure Hills, across U.S. 19 from the site, voiced safety concerns. Much of the attention before the store opening focused on the Beacon Woods neighborhood east of Wal-Mart.

And you can't forget the redevelopment in 2000 of the rundown Towne Centre plaza at U.S. 19 and Ridge Road in Port Richey. It clearly caught the city unprepared for increased traffic and frequent responses to shoplifting calls that strained Police Department resources. A former city official correctly characterized Port Richey as the poster child for the demands oversized Wal-Mart can place on a community.

How ironic that Port Richey is now contracting with a private company for traffic surveillance cameras at the intersection to identify red-light runners, a good number of which, we suspect, are impatient motorists trying to navigate the frustrating traffic flow created by Wal-Mart customers.

Wal-Mart opponents frequently cite Port Richey's police troubles — higher-than-expected overtime costs, increased response time to nonemergency calls and decreased productivity from traffic patrols — as proof the retailer is synonymous with increased crime. That is a stretch. The cleared land in Elfers is abutted by a seedy strip club, the parking lot for which was the scene of a fatal shooting of a 27-year-old woman in February. How can Wal-Mart be worse than that?

Likewise, authorities reported no spike in crime statistics after Wal-Mart Supercenter stores opened at Little Road and SR 54 near Trinity and along U.S. 301 on the northern edge of Zephyrhills.

In Elfers, Wal-Mart had planned to build on a vacated commercial site near industrial land. The neighboring property included the strip club, an empty gasoline station and a sewage treatment plant. Proposed improvements included a cleanup of environmental contamination on the land and improvements to SR 54 and U.S. 19. That is now gone by the wayside.

Nearby residents no longer have to worry about increased traffic, but now they should worry about how long they will have a barren tract of land across the street. Blight isn't a particularly attractive neighbor.

Traffic is worrisome, but barren site is, too 05/17/08 [Last modified: Monday, May 19, 2008 1:47pm]
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