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Compromise lessens impact of Wal-Mart

Under normal circumstances, pushing more cars onto U.S. 19 in west Pasco isn't our idea of astute traffic planning. But redeveloping an abandoned mall next to a densely populated and politically active neighborhood isn't a normal circumstance.

Monday morning, after a 2 1/2 hour public hearing, Pasco's Development Review Committee of County Administrator John Gallagher and his top assistants gave preliminary approval for a controversial Wal-Mart Supercenter at U.S. 19 and Beacon Woods Drive. The result is a sound plan to kick-start retail activity at the Bayonet Point commercial site while keeping traffic out of the Beacon Woods neighborhood.

A county-proposed compromise allows Wal-Mart to build a one-way bridge across Bear Creek to Beacon Woods Drive. Vehicles using the bridge to exit the south side of the shopping center will be unable to turn left and head east through the Beacon Woods subdivision. Instead, motorists will be forced to turn right and drive west to a traffic signal at U.S. 19.

It is a substantial and welcome change from proposals floated three years ago. Then, the proposed traffic flow called for cars to head in both directions on Beacon Woods Drive. Neighborhood residents feared significant cut-through traffic to State Road 52 and an increase in the number of speeders.

Though some residents continued to object to Wal-Mart's presence at all, the county could not prohibit a business enterprise on the site. The land is zoned for commercial use and is home to a vacant 205,000-square-foot building. The mall, which opened in 1984 as Outlet World and later changed its name to Bayonet Point Mall, closed 16 years ago. Proposed uses over the years included county offices, a skating rink and a medical center. None moved beyond preliminary talking stages.

Wal-Mart announced its plans in late 2002. It will demolish the abandoned mall and construct a 203,000-square-foot center with one parcel used as a gas station. That is smaller than the Wal-Mart complex 4 miles to the south at U.S. 19 and Ridge Road, where heavy traffic is exacerbated by four stand-alone restaurants, a strip center housing five businesses and an adjoining building with a video store and cellular telephone sales.

And unlike the supercenter in the city of Port Richey, the Bayonet Point location must adhere to Pasco County's strict architectural, landscape and sign controls.

Monday morning, residents wearing "Stop the Wal-Mart Bridge" T-shirts applauded frequently when speakers said a Wal-Mart store was ill-advised because of the dangers associated with U.S. 19. Unfortunately, they failed to acknowledge daily traffic counts on the highway drop by 10,000 cars immediately north of State Road 52. In other words, traffic diminishes at nearly the precise location where the store will be built.

The Development Review Committee collected other concessions Monday. Wal-Mart agreed to extend its rear buffer wall the length of its property, to install dust-collecting fabric on the existing chain-link fence during construction and to narrow the width of its Bear Creek bridge surface to dispel fears it planned later to seek two-way traffic on the span. In addition, the county said it would attempt to use a $61,000 fee from Wal-Mart to extend off-site sidewalks into the Beacon Woods neighborhood.

Routing traffic away from the Beacon Woods neighborhood while building new sidewalks inside the subdivision is a pretty good deal for residents. They don't have to patronize Wal-Mart, but they shouldn't object to this reasonable compromise, either.

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