Zoning okay clears path for new Lowe's
By MOLLY MOORHEAD
ZEPHYRHILLS -- City Council members cleared the way Monday night for a Lowe's home improvement store to be built on U.S. 301 north of the Wal-Mart Supercenter.
Council members voted unanimously to rezone a 17-acre site at U.S. 301 and Kossik Road to allow for community commercial use, necessary before Lowe's can begin construction.
But they did so against the advice of city planner Todd Vande Berg, who said current plans to build the 100,000-square-foot store conflict with the comprehensive plan. He cited compatibility with surrounding property, proximity to planning boundary lines, urban sprawl concerns, infrastructure and natural resources as reasons to vote down the rezoning.
"It's my opinion -- and the county's -- that this is a location where we should transition down in use," Vande Berg said.
The site, a former orange grove now covered with pine trees, abuts the city's northern planning boundary -- Kossik Road. Undeveloped land and houses lie north of it, and the comprehensive plan recommends a buffer between the two areas. That could include offices or apartment buildings.
Samuel Steffey, Pasco County's growth management administrator, agreed with Vande Berg. Steffey wrote in an April 7 letter that there was a "compatibility issue" with the properties to the north. "A less intense use such as a neighborhood commercial or professional office use would be recommended," Steffey wrote.
Vande Berg also was concerned about the proposed store's environmental impact. The land forms a hill that would have to be leveled to accommodate the store and parking lot. Vande Berg said the comprehensive plan directs the city to protect its environment.
"The rolling hills are rare in Florida and should be considered a natural resource," he said.
But council members, all of whom thanked Vande Berg profusely for explaining the many ramifications of the project, voted unanimously to approve the rezoning.
The store will create 100 new full-time jobs and generate considerable revenue in taxes and impact fees. Vande Berg's chief concern -- respecting the planning boundary lines -- didn't carry much weight with council members, who talked about growth Monday night as if it were inevitable.
"I personally don't see the boundary lines as fixed," council member Liz Geiger said. "We have to also envision where they may be 10 years from now."
City Manager Steve Spina, who favored the rezoning along with the city's Planning Commission, called the concerns about the Lowe's project "growing pains."
"We're a small community that's seeing a lot of growth. ... It's not easy (but) it's a healthy process," Spina said.
"It's a battle with the rolling hills and the beauty of the trees," Geiger added.
But she also noted the very visible trend along U.S. 301 at the north edge of the city -- big stores and strip centers. "That seems to be the pinpoint of where commercial growth is right now," Geiger said.
Ron Oakley of Oakley Groves Inc., which owns the Kossik Road property, said he wasn't sure how the vote would go after Vande Berg's lengthy presentation noting all the project's drawbacks. "We're happy with the outcome," Oakley said.
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