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Wal-Mart cries foul despite clout

There must be cement in the spines of some Tarpon Springs Board of Adjustment members. In January those volunteer board members stood up to the legal representatives of one of the most powerful retailers in America: Wal-Mart.

Last week, they did it again.

No fair, cried a Wal-Mart rep.

There is something rather appealing about watching Wal-Mart in such a position, especially since the real victim in this case is the environment.

Wal-Mart wants to build a supercenter on a beautiful parcel on the bank of the Anclote River, a protected Florida waterway in Tarpon Springs. The City Commission approved the project in a historic, all-night meeting three years ago. Wal-Mart has been battling to act on that approval ever since, stymied repeatedly by the work of opponents devoted to seeing that Wal-Mart never builds on the property.

Lately, the Board of Adjustment has been as much of a blockade as the citizen opponents. Late last year, Wal-Mart had to make some changes in its site plan. If the city concluded that the changes were minor, Wal-Mart could move ahead with its plan. But if the changes were deemed major, Wal-Mart could be required to start all over with another public hearing before the City Commission.

The city staff decided the changes were minor. But the Board of Adjustment, after a three-hour public hearing in January, voted 3-2 that the changes were major.

Wal-Mart appealed that decision in last week's Board of Adjustment meeting, arguing that one board member should have recused himself from the January hearing and asking for a rehearing. However, no board member would make a motion to rehear the case.

Then Wal-Mart asked the board members to schedule another hearing so they could clarify their January decision. Wal-Mart's representatives claimed the board failed to state clearly enough why the changes were major.

Wal-Mart's request was part intimidation, part pressure tactic, but the board didn't fall for it, refusing to schedule another hearing. However, the board did vote to provide Wal-Mart with a written decision that would include each board member's reasoning for voting as they did in January. That document should be written with great care, since it is likely to be dissected by Wal-Mart and perhaps used in court. Wal-Mart has 30 days to decide whether to appeal the board's decision to circuit court.

After the board meeting, Wal-Mart spokeswoman Quenta Vettel said, "We just don't feel we've received a fair consideration from the board." Interesting. More than a few people in Tarpon Springs would say that neither they, nor the environment, have gotten fair consideration from Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart cries foul despite clout 04/01/08 [Last modified: Saturday, April 5, 2008 2:19pm]
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