Wesley Chapel will get thrift store

Despite controversy, just three people speak against the proposed Salvation Army store.

Published March 16, 2007

NEW PORT RICHEY - The clamor to stop a Salvation Army thrift store from going up near an upscale Wesley Chapel neighborhood turned into a whimper Thursday.

Only three people spoke out before the county's Development Review Committee unanimously approved the project. In the two months leading up to the meeting, dozens had pelted the county with complaints about the store.

The 23,300-square-foot store will be across State Road 54 from Lexington Oaks, a golf course community of 1,500 homes.

Residents complained the store would not fit in near their homes, saying it would invite vagrants and homeless people, dumping and traffic at a business undesirable to them.

"Especially on Wednesdays and Saturdays, when they have the half-off sale days at the thrift centers," noted Esther Larkin, who turned in a petition against the store that she said had 1,000 signatures.

But some residents said they were resigned to the store being built, and other neighbors weren't up in arms to join them. The 3-acre site is zoned to allow retail, and county officials said the project met the development code except for a few technicalities to be resolved later.

The decision can be appealed to the County Commission, but neighborhood leader Peter Hanzel cast doubt on the likelihood of a challenge, given the difficulty collecting money for an attorney.

As he spoke afterward, however, a dozen neighbors peppered Salvation Army Maj. Larry White with criticism outside the meeting room.

The store will be a steel structure covered on three sides with artificial stucco. Shrubs and trees will surround it. Its revenues would pay for substance abuse rehabilitation programs by the tax-exempt organization. The stores often employ rehab participants who reach a level of sobriety.

County officials did order a few changes. Bipin Parikh, the assistant county administrator for development services, said turn lanes on and off SR 54 need to be added, but only before construction plans are approved.

The board also banned vehicle sales and displaying or storing retail items outside the store. White said he had no issues with it, adding the Salvation Army wants to be a "good neighbor."

David DeCamp can be reached at 727 869-6232 or ddecamp@sptimes.com