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Wal-Mart seeks okay for huge signs

Bigger seems to be better when it comes to Wal-Mart.

The retail giant is seeking permission from the city to erect oversized signs at its new store on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard in New Tampa.

If approved, the signs would measure more than eight times the 150 square feet allowed under the area's strict design guidelines for businesses.

Wal-Mart says the signs, totaling 1,273 square feet, are needed to direct customers to its store and inform them about services, such as the pharmacy and vision center. The supercenter is set far back from the road, behind trees and dense landscaping.

In addition to identifying the store and its departments, the signs would include Wal-Mart's slogans: We sell for less. Satisfaction guaranteed. Low prices.

City planners denied Wal-Mart's request because the signs didn't meet the design rules, which went into effect last year.

Wal-Mart appealed the decision to the city's Variance Review Board. The board is scheduled to take up the issue at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 315 E Kennedy Blvd.

Some supporters of the development guidelines said the signs would do little to attract shoppers.

"I don't think Wal-Mart needs to put all of those things on the building in order for people to know what Wal-Mart is," said Lynn Grinnell, vice president of the New Tampa Community Council. "Wal-Mart is a household word."

Mary Vien, an officer for the community group representing nearby West Meadows, said the city should enforce the new rules.

"It's pretty obvious there's a Wal-Mart out there," she said.

New Tampa residents pushed for the design guidelines to control the unsightly side effects of growth. Many feared that Bruce B. Downs would become another Dale Mabry Highway with lots of billboards and scarce landscaping.

Last month, the city granted Kash n' Karry an exception to erect a sign about three times larger than the new rules allow. The review board said it was warranted because the store is hundreds of feet off Bruce B. Downs, behind other businesses.

Wal-Mart worked with the city to make its street sign less obtrusive, but it hasn't presented alternatives for its signs on the building, said Thom Snelling, manager of the city's land development. The review board will have to decide if the request is reasonable.

The store is scheduled to open in October.

_ Susan Thurston can be reached at (813) 226-3463 or thurstonsptimes.com.

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