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Wal-Mart settles on fourth site

First there were too many wetlands, then not enough traffic lights. The retail giant's latest choice may be just right.

By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 6, 2002

CRYSTAL RIVER -- Their southern migration through Crystal River turns heads every time.

Not the whooping cranes. The plans for the Wal-Mart Supercenter.

The retail giant has made its fourth move south, this time submitting drawings to county planners for a 226,213-square-foot store at the northeast corner of U.S. 19 and Ozello Trail (County Road 494). The 471/2-acre property sits just north of St. Benedict Catholic Church and is owned by the Archdiocese of St. Petersburg. Wal-Mart is negotiating a contract to buy the property, attorney Clark Stillwell said.

Why the southern shift?

The first two sites -- on the west side of U.S. 19 near Scotty's, and then on the east side of U.S. 19 at West Venable Street -- had too many wetlands and other environmental constraints, Stillwell said.

The third site, on the east side of U.S. 19 at West Penn Drive, had few wetlands but a major traffic problem, he said. With no signal at Penn, southbound drivers would have a difficult time getting in and out of the store.

"It was a very convoluted traffic pattern," Stillwell said.

The latest site at Ozello Trail has a signal that solves the traffic problem, he said. But wetlands are once again an issue.

Nearly 13 acres of wetlands on the southern half of the site would be filled to make way for the Wal-Mart Supercenter, a combined discount general store and grocery store.

If the project was approved, Wal-Mart would mitigate the wetlands loss by buying a 320-acre tract in Crystal River for preservation, Stillwell said.

"There are wetlands impacts," Stillwell said. "And what we've been advised by the (Southwest Florida Water Management) District is they're going to require regionally significant off-site mitigation, of a quality that would enhance the region."

The project would also need county approval, since only the front strip of property along U.S. 19 is zoned for commercial use. Two 8.5-acre blocks would have to be rezoned from low density residential to general commercial.

At first blush, the revised drawings seem to address county planners' concerns by adding more landscaping to the parking lot and keeping larger trees along U.S. 19.

"They did everything we've asked them to do," said Chuck Dixon, the county's director of Community Development.

Assuming the project hits no more roadblocks, it would come before the county's Planning and Development Review Board for a workshop Feb. 6 and a public hearing Feb. 20. The County Commission would review the plans at a March 25 workshop and an April 22 public hearing.

Only time will tell if Wal-Mart ends its southern migration here.

"If we get lucky, we'll get it in Hernando County yet," Stillwell said, chuckling.

-- Bridget Hall Grumet can be reached at 860-7303 or .

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