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Tarpon commissioners had power to say no

Letters to the Editor
Published January 30, 2005


Re: Heed lesson of Wal-Mart: know plans for the land, column by Howard Troxler, Jan. 23.

When artist Christopher Still asked when Tarpon Springs city commissioners lost the power to say no, Howard Troxler said there was an answer and gave everyone a lesson in comprehensive land plans and zoning. I am sure that based on the articles he read and possibly some people he may have spoken with, he thought he had the answer. But he was not at the meeting. As one of the Tarpon Springs commissioners, I was, and with that in mind, I would like to set the record straight.

There were at least five reasons the Tarpon commission could have legally and safely said no, but because zoning was the issue in the column, I will concentrate on that.

That parcel was originally zoned HB (Highway Business) and rezoned GB a few years ago. Along with this rezoning came new rules for that property because GB zoning has specialized requirements. To quote from the code, "The GB District is established to provide for the development of a centralized commercial area where specialty retail, restaurant, office and residential uses are readily available. This district is intended to encourage redevelopment of traditional shopping areas and promote cultural tourism within the National Register Historic District and Cultural Preservation District which function to serve the immediate residential neighborhoods and the community as a whole."

This description does not sound like the correct zoning for a Wal-Mart to me. The argument made by the city staff and Wal-Mart lawyers was that this section of the code did not apply to Wal-Mart because the parcel was about a mile outside downtown. But the city staff conceded that if Wal-Mart wanted to build in downtown, it would not be permitted to do so based on the same code they say permits them to build a mile away. In other words, they would require one parcel that is zoned GB to meet all the requirements of the zoning but would allow Wal-Mart exceptions to the code.

There were two reasons I made the motion to deny the Wal-Mart application on the zoning issue, and I felt that the other commissioners should have done the same.

First, there is no mechanism in our zoning for requiring the entire section of the code on one site zoned GB to be enforced and then using only part of that same code on another parcel that has the same GB zoning. That is an interpretation, not a law, and allows for a legal right of any commissioner to say no if he or she does not agree with that interpretation.

Second, the property was originally zoned HB, which says, "The HB District is established to provide for predominantly retail shopping and highway oriented service areas outside the central business district." That sounds like and is a much better zoning for a proposed Wal-Mart than GB. As a side note, all the immediate properties surrounding the proposed Wal-Mart site, on the north and the south, are zoned HB. The Wal-Mart site was zoned GB. It stuck out like a sore thumb.

In my opinion as a commissioner, the best solution to this problem was to have Wal-Mart apply for a rezoning of the property back to HB, which would be appropriate for that area. It appears Wal-Mart was not willing to do this because the rezoning process allows traffic and environmental issues to be more fully considered.. You may remember that traffic and the environment were the two main reasons the Board of County Commissioners turned down Wal-Mart a few months ago in Palm Harbor.

For the reasons I have mentioned and at least three or four more that I do not have room here to discuss, Tarpon Springs did have valid reasons to say no to this site plan. The other commissioners chose to go with the Wal-Mart and staff experts instead of the two competent land experts who testified otherwise. In a democracy, we all have the right to these choices.

To answer Christopher Still's question: We did not lose the power to say no; it is just that a majority of the commission, right or wrong, did not exercise this option and opted to say yes.


-- Peter Nehr, Tarpon Springs commissioner

Tarpon leaders followed the law

Re: Wal-Mart Supercenter

I wish to speak as a member of the so-called silent majority. We are a nation of laws. There seems to be a movement trying to change this issue. The recent elections and the Tarpon Springs City Commission meeting that lasted all night reflect this.

Some people seem to think that if you do not agree with them, you must be wrong. Today we spin words, tell stories or use the environment to get what we want.

I praise the three members of the commission who voted to follow the law. People with an agenda will go to any length to get what they want. You cannot stop progress. The city can use the money, and the jobs will help.

I would think these same people will be first in line because they didn't want to drive to the Ridge Road Wal-Mart.


-- Raymond W. Suares, Tarpon Springs

[Last modified January 30, 2005, 00:10:19]


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