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Builders confronted on damage

Hernando Beach residents fed up with a tattered landscape make progress toward amends.

By ROBERT KING, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 8, 2002


HERNANDO BEACH -- In a world beset by strife, here lies an example of neighbors working out their problems by getting together and talking face to face.

It relates to the symbolic entrance to Hernando Beach on U.S. 19, noteworthy because of its colorful tile sunset mural and wildlife sculptures -- a $30,000 project built largely on donations from beach residents and local businesses.

Lately -- less than two years after the sign went up and the median around it was neatly landscaped -- the entrance has been looking pretty battered.

A freshly carved dirt road slashes through the middle of the grass median. Tread marks from large trucks scar the landscape. And irrigation lines under the turf appear to be leaking as a result of construction vehicles passing over them.

Hernando Beach residents say the two new corporate neighbors on both sides of the entrance -- Eckerd and Wal-Mart -- are responsible for the mess. And, initially, efforts to get the companies to rectify the situation went nowhere, causing blood pressures to rise on the beach.

The final straw came when beach activists noticed stakes planted in the ground around the sign -- a harbinger of a road widening that is intended to accommodate Wal-Mart Supercenter traffic but will slice deep into the median.

Some residents feared that the widening would bring cars so close to the Hernando Beach sign that drivers would be able to pet the dolphin sculptures as they passed by.

But after a meeting of the minds -- beach activists, a construction superintendent, public works officials and county Commissioner Robert Schenck -- it appears that a storm on Hernando Beach may yet be averted.

Regarding the damages, Wal-Mart construction superintendent Jay Catalano of Case Contracting promised beach representatives Thursday that his company would replace broken water lines and torn up grass by the time the store opens in April.

As for shaving off the median, Catalano and Charles Mixson, director of the county's Public Works Department, explained that while the road will be widened closer to the sign, by about 6 feet, it will not expand nearly as much as beach representatives had initially feared.

And while the median will shrink somewhat, Catalano promised that the area remaining would look better than it did when his company showed up to start building the Wal-Mart. He made the promise even though he said his company wasn't responsible for the damage.

"We have a good neighbor policy, as does Wal-Mart," said Catalano.

Beach activists, including Tom Anderson, Joan Lentini and Melody Merritt, say that while Wal-Mart trucks have been seen in the median, most of the damage was done by the contractors that built the new Eckerd store, just north of the Hernando Beach entrance.

Eckerd representatives weren't part of Thursday's summit meeting, which took place around the Hernando Beach sign. And, when contacted by the Times, Eckerd spokeswoman Tami Alderman wasn't willing to let Eckerd take all the blame for the damage. She noted that there were multiple developers in the area.

But, after initially turning down a written request for help from Hernando Beach representatives, she told the Times on Thursday that Eckerd would work with its developer to repair the damage.

In the end, community representatives seem to be appeased.

"I can live with it," said Gladys Moore, president of the Hernando Beach Property Owners Association. "I'm not happy with it."

Anderson, owner of Prestige Homes and a key player in the construction of the Hernando Beach entrance sign, is not thrilled with the widening, which will add a fourth lane to carry traffic away from the new supercenter. But he said he was satisfied. To come up with room for the additional lane, planners will carve 6 feet of grass from the median and 6 feet from the right shoulder. The road will be repaved and restriped.

Anderson said the result would be a road that better aligns with Spring Hill Drive.

"It won't detract from the entrance, and it should make it safer for people using the road," Anderson said.

When the revamped roadwork is done, drivers leaving Wal-Mart and the Hernando Beach area will have two lanes turning left onto U.S. 19.

Another lane will cross U.S. 19 and feed only into Spring Hill Drive.

And the fourth lane will offer drivers an option -- to cross U.S. 19 to Spring Hill Drive or to turn right and head south on U.S. 19.

-- Robert King covers Spring Hill and can be reached at 848-1432. Send e-mail to rking@sptimes.com .

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