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Wal-Mart proposal survives review board vote

Published Sep. 27, 2005

Over the objections of county planners, the Citrus County Planning and Development Review Board on Thursday recommended a land use change that keeps alive a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter off U.S. 19 south of Crystal River.

Board members indicated they had heard enough new information from representatives of the developers, Crystal River Limited Partnerships, to allow them more time to answer a bevy of questions raised by the Florida Department of Community Affairs and other state and federal agencies.

The proposal would change the 31-acre site from low intensity coastal and lakes district to general commercial district. It now goes before Citrus County commissioners.

"What we're asking is a show of faith," said Tim Powell, an urban planner with the Tampa law firm representing the developers. "Let us continue to address these issues."

Just before the meeting, county planners received updates from the developers on nagging issues related to drainage, flood control, habitat protection and wetlands conservation. They still recommended denial despite not having read the document.

The review board vote represents a comeback of sorts for the developers, whose first application was roundly rejected last year by Community Affairs. But the real challenge for Wal-Mart will come if the commissioners approve the comprehensive land change. At that point the developers would come back to the review board with a proposed zoning change that would require them to provide detailed plans and solutions.

In addition, they will have to overcome the opposition of the state department.

They would like to soften the opposition of residents living behind the proposed supercenter. At the meeting, they touted new drainage plans that they said not only reduce the possibility of flooding but also replenish some wetlands.

They also offered to meet with residents about their concerns. But overcoming residents' fears will not be easy. Homeowners say the supercenter would increase the likelihood of flooding in an area that already accumulates water during rain storms.

They also worry the project would threaten wildlife in the wooded neighborhood.

"I am going to let them see what they're trying to interfere with," Country Club Drive resident Elaine Julias said afterward. "I don't think you'll find too many people who are for it.

"Just last night there were six raccoons and two foxes. We have a bobcat who comes in and catches squirrels. We see all kinds of birds."

Developer's representatives tried to compare their project to the Home Depot going up just south of the proposed Wal-Mart site. County planners say the Home Depot did not receive the same scrutiny because the property was zoned commercial and did not need a comprehensive land use change.

Community development director Chuck Dixon remains skeptical about the project's future. For example, the state does not allow local governments to provide infrastructure to new development in the coastal high hazard zone, but the developers are not willing to change their design and build closer to U.S. 19.

"I really don't know how they can address some of these issues," he said.