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Wrangling over Wal-Mart

Neighbors want promises that their lives will not be disrupted, while developers want credit for cleaning the polluted site.

By JACKIE RIPLEY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 3, 2002


CITRUS PARK -- Hillsborough County Commissioners want something from the developer of a Wal-Mart proposed for Gunn Highway and Henderson Road: Assurances that the super-sized store will be a good neighbor.

Wal-Mart wants something from Hillsborough County: A so-called "brownfield designation" that will give the business tax credits for cleaning pollution on the site.

This combination of needs places the two parties in a bargaining posture as Citrus Park braces itself for the megastore. County commissioners last month held up approval of the brownfield designation until there could be more communication between developers and neighbors -- on everything from traffic and noise to buffering and lights.

"We're just eager to work with the neighborhood associations," said Daphne Moore, community affairs manager for Wal-Mart. "We had a really good meeting earlier this month and were able to answer a lot of questions and concerns. We hope to continue moving that relationship along."

Moore said Wal-Mart hopes to start construction in spring 2003, with a fall grand opening.

The term brownfield designation applies to any property that is contaminated, or perceived to be contaminated, that adds little to the tax roles and depresses neighboring land.

Wal-Mart's developer, Buckley Shuler Properties of Atlanta, says that's the case at the 68-acre tract at Gunn and Henderson. What once was a paint factory could give way to a 235,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter, as well as restaurants, an office park and 440 apartments.

County commissioners want assurances that plans for the site are consistent with the county's comprehensive plan and they want something in writing that would assure residents their lives would not be disrupted.

During an earlier public hearing, Don Hardy, who lives in Logan Gate Village, said changes have already started occuring around the construction site, including destruction of habitat for the birds and the wildlife that live in the pond.

"Gone is the great horned owl that would sit on the pole next to my property and hunt at night," Hardy said.

At that same hearing, neighbor Jayson O'Mahoney said Citrus Park Town Center has already added traffic to the area and he's concerned Wal-Mart "is going to bring a lot of unwanted extra business coming into the area."

And Jean Carson, president of the Citrus Park Civic Association, said she doesn't think Wal-Mart needs a tax break.

"These are big kids," Carson said. "They've got money. They knew what they had when they bought it."

Any compensation would go to Wal-Mart, which by creating jobs on the site, would be eligible for corporate tax breaks from the federal government. The savings would amount to about 35 percent of the cleanup cost, or up to $250,000 a year.

Buckley Shuler says it has spent about $700,000 on site cleanup, partly to remove contaminants, paint cans and paint byproducts. The job has required constant remediation of the ground water in the area, company officials said.

Developers are scheduled to meet again with county commissioners Feb. 21.

- Jackie Ripley can be reached at (813) 269-5308 or ripley@sptimes.com.

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