The county Development Review Committee approved plans Monday for a Wal-Mart Supercenter near Beacon Woods, ending a 3 1/2-year tug of war over the fate of the abandoned Bayonet Point Mall.
The plans reflected a compromise between Wal-Mart, which wanted access to the traffic signal at U.S. 19 and Beacon Woods Drive, and the Beacon Woods residents who didn't want shoppers and delivery trucks cutting through their neighborhood.
The design includes a one-way bridge over Bear Creek, allowing traffic leaving Wal-Mart to pour onto Beacon Woods Drive. But concrete barriers will allow those cars to turn only right toward the signal at U.S. 19, not left toward the neighborhood.
The bridge would be for exits only, so shoppers and delivery trucks would have to enter Wal-Mart from one of the two driveways on U.S. 19.
The compromise allows shoppers leaving Wal-Mart to safely cross the highway at the traffic signal, while making it difficult for those shoppers to cut through Beacon Woods, county engineering services director Jim Widman said.
"This was the least-bad option we were faced with," said Ronald Hubbs, chairman of the Beacon Woods Civic Association special committee on Wal-Mart. "If this project was going to go on in some fashion . . . this compromise was probably going to be the best compromise we were going to get."
Still, it was disappointing news for more than 100 Beacon Woods residents who attended the hearing at the West Pasco Government Center. Many of them argued the retail giant would bring extra traffic, litter and noise pollution to their 2,700-home community.
"I moved to Beacon Woods to be in a nice quiet area," said Barbara May, who moved from Manhattan. "Now I feel it's going to be ruined."
Another resident, Lee Hutchins, put it this way:
"If the bridge comes to pass, will it be worth the few cents saved on undergarments?"
The plans call for a 203,007-square-foot center and a gas station at the site of the old Bayonet Point Mall, which has sat empty for 16 years. Wal-Mart bought the 30-acre tract, on U.S. 19 a half-mile north of State Road 52, last year for $5-million.
Some residents said the Wal-Mart would worsen the traffic on U.S. 19, one of the deadliest highways in the country. Others questioned the need for a Wal-Mart, as there is already a supercenter 4 miles south at U.S. 19 and Ridge Road, and another 11 miles north in Spring Hill.
But the Bayonet Point site is already zoned for commercial use, so all the county can do is address technical issues such as traffic, County Administrator John Gallagher said. He chairs the Development Review Committee, which includes four other top administrators.
Several residents asked Wal-Mart to add speed bumps to Clocktower Parkway to slow any cut-through traffic. But the county's traffic operations manager, Robert Reck, recommended against that, saying speed bumps would "drastically increase response times for emergency vehicles."
The committee gained other concessions from the retail giant, however. Before demolishing the mall, workers will place a fabric filter over the existing chain link fence to prevent debris from spilling into Beacon Woods.
When they build the store, workers will add a wall along the entire back end of the Wal-Mart property, not just along a portion as originally planned.
Because Wal-Mart will add traffic to a stretch of Beacon Woods Drive, which is considered a substandard roadway, the retail giant will give the county $61,393 to improve the road. Gallagher suggested earmarking the money for adding sidewalks.
While the bridge over Bear Creek will be 54 feet wide, only 35 feet will be paved to accommodate one traffic lane and a sidewalk/bike path. The remainder may be covered with landscaping.
The bridge was designed at 54 feet to handle three lanes of traffic. Narrowing the thing would require new permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, delaying the project another seven or eight months, Wal-Mart consultant David Campbell told the committee.
Paving only 35 feet gives residents the assurance that the bridge will handle only one lane of traffic, without requiring a new design and new permits.
"I don't know why anyone would want to go through this pain again to get to this point," said Glenn Smith, an attorney for Wal-Mart.
Bridget Hall Grumet can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6244 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6244. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.