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Big signs allowed, but not too many

Wal-Mart gets an exception to allow larger signs for its new supercenter, but a code board limits how far the store can take it.

Wal-Mart can plaster oversized signs on the front of its Bruce B. Downs Boulevard store, just not that many.

The city's code regulation board decided Tuesday to limit the size of signs on Wal-Mart's soon-to-open supercenter to 600 square feet.

The square footage amounts to about half of Wal-Mart's request, but four times what the city allows under New Tampa's new design guidelines.

Members of the Variance Review Board said Wal-Mart deserved to have larger signs because the store sits nearly 700 feet away from Bruce B. Downs, a distance greater than two football fields.

However, they opposed signs that list the store's services and products or the chain's slogans: We sell for less. Satisfaction guaranteed. Low prices. Always.

"It's a grocery store. You expect them to sell meat and produce," said board chairman Ana Wallrapp. "Is it necessary to advertise these things on the building?"

Wal-Mart officials argued the signs were needed to direct customers to different departments, such as the pharmacy, vision center and food center.

"It sounds like a lot but it's a 200,000-square-foot store," said company representative Bryan Sykes. "We need to be able to identify these different items to the consumers."

Customers also needed to see the store behind all of the landscaping at the entrance, he said.

"If you drive by the store on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard it's a good chance you'll miss it," he said.

As a compromise, the board voted 4-1 to give the store the 600-square-feet worth of signs. That's enough for signs that say Wal-Mart, supercenter, food center and another sign no larger than the "low prices" sign for the second entrance.

"I think this falls into the class of an exception," said board member Rebecca Smith. "But I don't think "Always' is important, or "We sell for less.' "

Board member John Dingfelder voted against it. He argued that residents who helped write the sign rules never intended to have advertising splashed across the building.

"There's a silent party that we should be representing," he said.

Residents could not speak on the issue because the case was heard on appeal. Two board members were absent.

Wal-Mart officials said they were disappointed with the decision and may explore options for adding signs. The request was legitimate, said Daphne Davis, a spokeswoman at the chain's headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.

City planners denied Wal-Mart's request because the signs didn't meet the rules outlined in the New Tampa Commercial Overlay District, which went into effect last year. Residents pushed for the design guidelines to control the unsightly side effects of growth.

The variance board recently allowed Kash n' Karry to erect an oversized sign because the store is set back from Bruce B. Downs behind other businesses. Lowe's also has an exception.

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