Stores' advance elicits furor

Published December 14, 2006

NEW PORT RICHEY - Two hotly contested Wal-Mart Supercenters could be closer to being built in Pasco County after key decisions this week.

A store planned at State Road 54 and Grand Boulevard won approval Tuesday after a 31/2-hour meeting by the county's Development Review Committee. Neighbors voiced concerns about traffic and argued the county failed to follow proper procedures - all but guaranteeing an appeal.

Farther north near Hudson, Wal-Mart officials want Beacon Woods residents to back a compromise to win state approval for another store. The county has approved the plans for a Supercenter at the abandoned Bayonet Point Mall at U.S. 19 and Beacon Woods Drive. But the Florida Department of Transportation wants another opening allowing cars to turn into the store from Beacon Woods Drive. A decision is due at a Dec. 28 meeting.

Tuesday's decision on the New Port Richey store did not sit well with some neighbors.

"I always thought the county was supposed to be on the side of the people. Today they were on the side of developers," said Cynthia Besio, a Colonial Hills neighborhood organizer.

Neighbors wanted the DRC to stop Wal-Mart's 205,000-square-foot project. It was the second time the board reviewed the proposed store because the county failed to notify the neighbors when it approved the plans in May.

Wal-Mart critic Schuyler Ellis of Tampa argued that the county failed to require that Wal-Mart receive variances and follow other development standards.

While acknowledging the plan fell short on some points, county officials tweaked the development agreement to add conditions. The DRC deemed it unnecessary to require variances, which trigger a whole new approval process.