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Wal-Mart Supercenter's variances approved

The proposal to build a Wal-Mart Supercenter south of downtown Brooksville passed an important hurdle Wednesday evening when the city's Planning and Zoning Commission granted several variances the company requested.

The commission's decisions are binding though they may be appealed by residents within 10 days of their passage.

Among the variances the commission approved: an allowance for fewer parking spaces than the city would normally require for a building the size of the supercenter; and permission to build fewer landscaped islands in the parking lot, but to make these larger than code requires.

Both of these, representatives of the company said, would allow for the preservation of several large trees on the store's site _ 22 heavily wooded acres at U.S. 41 and Wiscon Road.

"I'm the one who messed this whole project up because I tried to save as many trees as possible," said Steve Clark, an urban forester hired by Wal-Mart.

The only request the commission denied was a variance of the sign ordinance. Wal-Mart asked for one 48-square-foot sign at U.S. 41 and Wiscon and a second 90-square-foot sign at the entrance on U.S. 41.

Alan Carpenter of CPH Engineers Inc. of Sanford argued that many more signs would have been erected if the property had been developed as a series of smaller projects.

Commissioner Charlie Miller pointed out that the supercenter will have signs on it. Also, he said, Wal-Marts are enough of a landmark that locals know where to find them.

"It seems to me that you're going to have plenty of signs down there," he said.

The city ordinance allowed the store either two signs of 48 square feet or one sign of 96 square feet. The commission agreed to a slight variance, allowing the company to decide the size of the two signs as long as their combined square footages was no more than 96 square feet.

Among the other variances: The building was allowed a narrower setback from the roads, which was justified by the wedgelike shape of the parcel. The commission also allowed the company an outdoor storage area for part of the year.

Company representatives began the meeting by showing a detailed plan of the project.

The building will have 157,000 square feet of floor space, slightly smaller than the supercenter on State Road 50. It will include a grocery section, a general merchandise section, a vision center, a deli, a car service facility and a bank.

The parking lot will include a landscaped buffer. Several of the large trees will be preserved, partly by a new technique in which pipes run from the surface to below the soil to provide roots with adequate air.

The company must still come before the City Council to request the removal of 144 large trees on the property that qualify as specimen trees according to city law. Several residents attended the meeting but none of them objected to the project.

"This looks like a good project to me, overall," Miller said. "It looks to me if we can get this thing built the way it's proffered, or close to the way it's proffered, we'll have an asset to the city."

_ Discuss this and other issues in our Web-based discussion forum at http://www.sptimes.com/hernandoforum.

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