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Tarpon keeps date to vote on Wal-Mart

Despite attempts by Wal-Mart opponents to force a delay, the City Commission plans to vote Jan. 18 on the retail giant's plans to build in the city.

In fact, at this week's City Commission meeting, officials spent more than 30 minutes trying to determine whether the hearing should be held four days earlier than planned.

It won't be, but City Attorney John Hubbard advised commissioners to consider moving the meeting as an "exercise of caution" to avoid any further legal wrinkles in a process that has divided Tarpon Springs and taken over much of City Hall's time and attention.

At issue was whether the city has met a deadline for considering a development agreement after a vote in July to abandon a previous plan. Opponents say the deadline passed in October. Hubbard said holding the vote Jan. 14 would put the city inside the time limit.

Opponents have suggested that the city's review process has been derailed because of the deadline. But Hubbard said it is merely "a straight procedural issue that is of no substance or consequence."

Nonetheless, officials hoping to avoid legal complications scrambled during Tuesday night's meeting to see whether moving the meeting would even be possible.

At one point, City Clerk Irene Jacobs left the meeting to find out whether a folk concert scheduled in the City Hall's main room Jan. 14 could be canceled to make way for a special commission meeting.

But city cultural and civic services director Kathleen Monahan told Jacobs the Work o' the Weavers performance was under contract, and tickets had been sold already.

Wal-Mart attorney Jim Porter said the company would be happy to have a hearing before Jan. 18.

"Wal-Mart is ready to move forward as quickly as possible," he said.

But Tampa lawyer John B. Grandoff III, who represents a coalition of city residents and property owners in unincorporated Pinellas County, said the commission should resolve procedural problems with the development plans before moving forward.

"I'm somewhat shocked that the board would consider advancing the issue," Grandoff said. "I just think it's not courteous. . . . This process is getting out of line."

Eventually, the commission decided to keep the Wal-Mart hearing on Jan. 18.

"I think we should choose the date that all parties had agreed on before," said Commissioner Peter Nehr.

They voted 4-1, with Commissioner Peter Dalacos dissenting, to have the city attorney draw up a contract of the development agreement for them to discuss at that meeting.

Mayor Beverley Billiris asked Hubbard to add a provision ensuring that Wal-Mart would prevent overnight parking at the store's kayak launch.

The city's Planning and Zoning Board will discuss the proposed site plan for the Wal-Mart Superstore at a special meeting at 7 p.m. Monday.

The Jan. 14 folk concert, which according to a city event calendar, "resonates ever so strongly in these troubled times when an American's right to dissent is once again being challenged," will go on.

Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at (727) 771-4307 or cshoichetsptimes.com.

IF YOU GO

The Tarpon Springs Planning and Zoning Board will hold a special public meeting on the Wal-Mart Supercenter site plan at 7 p.m. Monday in the City Hall auditorium, 324 E Pine St. The City Commission is scheduled to consider the site plan and development agreement for the project at its meeting at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 18 in the City Hall auditorium.

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