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Wal-Mart plan includes traffic signal

Published Sep. 4, 2005

A proposed Wal-Mart supercenter on U.S. 19 could come with a new traffic signal on the busy highway, according to a draft agreement the developer has sent to Pinellas County officials.

If approved by state and county officials, the new signal would go at the project's main entrance, directly across U.S. 19 from Cypress Pond Road. That road leads to the Muvico theaters and a handful of neighborhoods on the west side of U.S. 19.

The developer, the Wilder Corp., proposes to pay all costs of getting the light approved and installed.

The company also wants approval to build up to 120 residential units on Lake Tarpon next to the store. In addition, developers plan to use a 1.5-acre outparcel for a bank, restaurant, drugstore or other commercial building.

The Wilder Corp. owns about 38 acres on the east side of U.S. 19, south of Klosterman Road, and has a contract to sell about 25 acres of that land to Wal-Mart.

The site is the home of the Cypress Pointe RV Resort, whose residents beat back a proposal last year to build a Target and Lowe's home improvement store on the land. The company outlined its latest plans for the project in a draft agreement sent Friday to county officials.

If approved by the county, the proposed 205,000-square-foot supercenter would feature earth-tone colors such as tans, browns and greens, which would distinguish the store from the other blue and gray-colored Wal-Marts in the area.

"It's really going to have a totally different look, and we think it will be totally attractive for Palm Harbor," said Joel Tew, an attorney who represents Wal-Mart and the Wilder Corp.

County development review officials are examining the plans and will make a recommendation to county commissioners, who have the final say on the project. Commissioners are scheduled to discuss the proposal Dec. 17.

The Wilder Corp. needs the county to change the zoning and the land use of the property to allow the proposed developments. The company's request would make the land use the same as what is found "predominantly all up and down the U.S. 19 corridor in Pinellas County," Tew said.

But there is mounting opposition to the plan.

The county's file on the project includes a two-inch pile of e-mails, handwritten letters and petitions signed by residents, most of whom oppose the plan. The Cypress Pointe RV Resort would have to be torn down to make way for the retail giant.

All of the leases for the resort expired in October, but residents have the option to stay until April on a month-to-month basis, Tew said. The company is offering decreased rent to residents who chose to stay until then and free rent for a year for those who chose to relocate to another Wilder Corp. RV park.

In return for these concessions, residents have to agree not to oppose the project, Tew said.

Dan Hardin, 57, who has lived at Cypress Pointe for almost two years, said he had declined to sign that agreement, moving instead to another RV park in Pasco County.

"They don't want us here," Hardin said. "And when you aren't wanted, you should just leave."

Hardin said some of his neighbors were on fixed incomes and were "devastated" by the plans. Residents are uneasy and unhappy about having to move, he said.

Other residents who live near the proposed store said they feared it would bring too much traffic on U.S. 19, which already gets more than 71,000 trips a day. They also say that putting such a big development so close to Lake Tarpon would damage the lake.

"It's at the wrong site, and that will cause many, many problems," said Bill Gold, 73, who lives south of Cypress Pointe.

Wal-Mart proposes building the supercenter on the north side of the property facing south, meaning the side of the store will face U.S. 19. The parking lot, which will have more than 1,000 parking spaces, will be on the south end of the property.

Building the store this way will "reduce the visual impact on U.S. 19 . . . so you don't see the big front of the building" from the highway, Tew said. The company also will have to treat the stormwater runoff before it goes to Lake Tarpon, something that currently is not being done because the RV park was built before state regulations on stormwater were in place.

"It will be an attractive site compared to the property now," Tew said.