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Site for new Lowe's may hit zoning snag

A city planner recommends against rezoning to allow the home improvement store on 17 acres because the site abuts Zephyrhills' northern planning boundary.

By MOLLY MOORHEAD
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 11, 2003


ZEPHYRHILLS -- A massive Lowe's home improvement store proposed for north of the Wal-Mart Supercenter on U.S. 301 could hit a roadblock at Monday's City Council meeting.

Council members will consider rezoning a 17-acre site at U.S. 301 and Kossik Road to allow community commercial use -- a necessary first step before the retailer can pour any concrete for its new store.

But city planner Todd Vande Berg recommends against rezoning, and instead, finding a new spot for the store. He said he weighed the rezoning petition against the city's comprehensive plan and found some conflicts.

Most notably, Vande Berg said, the site abuts the city's northern planning boundary line -- Kossik Road. North of it are houses and undeveloped land, and the comprehensive plan recommends a buffer between the two areas.

"General planning principles would tell you to transition down to your planning boundary lines," Vande Berg said.

Transitional development could include offices or apartment buildings, he said.

Environmental impact is another concern. The site sits at a high elevation and peaks near the center. It would have to be leveled to accommodate the store and parking lot.

"We're supposed to conserve and protect the city's natural resources," Vande Berg said. "We kind of consider (the hill) as a natural resource, due to the fact that we don't have many hills in Zephyrhills."

The city's Planning Commission, on its third try, voted to recommend the rezoning to the council. In its regular meeting April 1, a vote to approve rezoning tied 2-2. The group reconvened last week, voted down a motion to deny the rezoning, then ultimately approved it 3-2.

The commission's action is only a recommendation; the final decision is left to the council.

Ron Oakley of Oakley Groves Inc., which owns the property, is counting on approval.

He said he and his family want to sell the site, a former orange grove now covered in pine trees, specifically for commercial use.

"That's the most value for the property, which anybody would try to do that," he said.

Oakley would not say what the asking price is on the property.

A spokesman for Lowe's did not return a call Thursday, but documents at City Hall confirm the company's interest in Zephyrhills.

A memorandum of understanding signed by the city and the company outlines some details of the deal. The city agreed to acquire the necessary permits and grant money, and Lowe's promised to build a 100,000-square-foot store and provide about 100 full-time jobs.

Vande Berg on Thursday said he agrees that Lowe's and Zephyrhills would be a good fit. His problem is with the site and the sprawl that could result in the future.

"My fear is that without looking at these issues, we'll build out and look like State Road 60 in Brandon," he said. "That's what happens with a lack of planning and growth management."

As an alternative, Vande Berg said the land right across the road might be more suitable. Gore's Dairy, which is considering annexation into the city and is rumored to be for sale, isn't on a planning boundary and the land is relatively flat.

While acknowledging that the overall appearance of the area would be much the same no matter which side of 301 Lowe's sits, Vande Berg said he's concerned about the tracts around it.

"I think it has an effect on the surrounding uses more so on the west side (of 301) than on the east side," he said. "How we grow and develop along those planning boundary lines is critical -- that's where we end."

-- Molly Moorhead covers news about Zephyrhills. She can be reached at (352) 521-5757 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6108, then 29. Her e-mail address is moorhead@sptimes.com

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