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Wal-Mart wins reprieve

Published Sep. 29, 2005

The City Council gives the company time to address concerns about flooding around its proposed supercenter. But any new plans must go before the city's planning board again.

The City Council gave Wal-Mart what it wanted: Time. Time to find ways to solve potential drainage problems that could be caused by a proposed Wal-Mart supercenter.

"We're looking at other alternatives," Wal-Mart's attorney, Bryan Sykes of Tampa, said Thursday when asking the council to postpone its decision on whether to change the zoning so Wal-Mart could build the supercenter.

Those alternatives focus on ways to lessen the store's impact on the drainage system in the area and methods to preserve more of a wetlands area that would be destroyed if the plan goes ahead as is.

The prospect of significant changes to the proposal made Pinellas Park council members go one step further. They're requiring the discount giant to take any new plans before the city's Planning and Zoning Commission. That group already has twice recommended that the council reject the Wal-Mart supercenter.

The Planning and Zoning Commission meeting is scheduled for Oct. 7 in the City Hall.

The City Council plans to hear the matter at a specially set Oct. 19 meeting. The council set no time nor place for the hearing. Officials said the hearing might be moved out of City Hall to a larger place that could more easily hold the expected crowd of a hundred or more.

This is the second postponement the council has granted Wal-Mart, which is facing hard opposition from neighbors of the proposed store. The neighbors are worried about noise and traffic from the store, which would be located on land adjacent to the southern boundary of the current store at 8900 U.S. 19 N.

The supercenter would have a grocery store and auto lube center. It would be open 24 hours as is the existing store. The existing store would be razed to make way for parking.

Those neighbors are also worried about flooding. The area, they say, already floods, and the new store's elevation and increased concrete would make matters worse.

The Wal-Mart would further increase the flooding problem even more, they say, because the discount giant plans to take over about 6 acres of preserved wetlands southeast of the existing store. Those wetlands, neighbors say, provide drainage and are the main defense against flooding in the area.

At least one agency agrees with those neighbors. Richard Kusmierczyk, executive director of the Pinellas Park Water Management District, recently walked the wetlands with Wal-Mart neighbor Charles Whittington.

"Basically, it's a flood plain," Kusmierczyk said Friday.

That means excess rainwater is stored in the ditch along that area. Without that outlet, there is an increased likelihood of flooding in the area, he said in an Aug. 11 letter to Whittington.

Wal-Mart could provide another area to accept the excess water, but the plan they submitted to the city does not address the issue, Kusmierczyk said.

Wal-Mart had been scouting areas on the east side of U.S. 19 to use as flood mitigation, but Kusmierczyk said that will not work. The pipes under U.S. 19 are too small to handle the flow. That means the flood mitigation must be on the same side of the street as the Wal-Mart.

Kusmierczyk said the water management district is not taking a position on whether the Wal-Mart should be built.

"Our only concern is that we don't make the flooding worse than what is already there," Kusmierczyk said. "I was letting council know so that they can make sure that it's taken care of . . . It doesn't hurt for them to know because then they'll make sure that Swiftmud requires it."