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Rezoning opens the way for Lowe's

Despite neighbors' concerns about noise, water runoff and bright lights, the County Commission cleared the way Tuesday for a Lowe's home improvement store to be built near Little and Ridge roads.

Lowe's, the nation's second-largest home improvement chain behind Home Depot, has expressed interest in building a 150,000-square-foot store southeast of the intersection.

Commissioners unanimously approved the request from property owner Mary Snell, whose family owns the 45-acre orange grove. But in an effort to placate dozens of angry residents from the neighboring Crescent Forest community, the commission retained the right to approve the final site plan.

Initially, Commissioner Ed Collins wanted to attach conditions to the rezoning, such as mandating certain kinds of lighting, restricting trucks to certain roads and limiting the company's hours of operation.

But Steve Booth, the landowner's attorney, argued that the county could not do that because it is still unclear what kinds of businesses will locate there.

He said he was "sorry we ever let it out" that Lowe's was considering the site, which is big enough for several stores. Publix and several companies also are looking at the land, he said.

"All the objections we've had has focused on Lowe's _ Lowe's has 24-hour-a-day operation and we don't want that, Lowe's has outside speakers and we don't want that," Booth said. "Lowe's is not a given on this site, though we hope it's going to be."

The county already has ordinances that address both noise and lighting issues, Booth said. Also, the development plan calls for a 600-foot buffer zone between the commercial establishments and the nearest residential neighbor. And, he said, it is unfair to restrict one company's hours of operation but not another's.

"I don't think you can take this on a case-by-case basis," Booth said. "That is not right, it is not fair, and it is not the law."

Commissioner Ann Hildebrand agreed.

"We are here to rezone property and land," she said. "We do not zone individual businesses.

Several neighboring residents said they had nothing against Lowe's, but simply worried that the noise and traffic it would bring would disturb their neighborhood. They asked that the county limit truck access to the proposed commercial complex to a few main roads.

"We know what 18-wheelers coming in from California and Oregon can do," said James Chuckas, a Crescent Forest resident. "We're not saying Lowe's this, Lowe's that _ we're just saying please protect us."

"We ask you not to prostitute us for the sake of tax dollars from strangers," said Patricia Lallanilla.

After Collins was assured by County Attorney Karla Stetter that the commission could attach conditions before approving the site plan, he made the motion to approve the rezoning request.

But he promised to address the neighbors' concerns before giving final approval.

"I think we're being spoon-fed this project" Collins said. "I don't like the way it is being presented."

Neighbors were satisfied.

"As long as we can come back and still fight," said Evelyn Karvink, "then that's okay."