Wal-Mart on Barclay would be a disruption

By Times editorial
Published May 6, 2007

Changing the comprehensive growth management plan has been in the headlines lately. With its decision April 26 to approve a gated 1, 750-home, 54-hole golf community on Hernando County's last large agricultural tract, the County Commission showed it will not hesitate to override land uses at the right time, for the right reasons, at the right place, for the right people.

Let's see if that incisive, bold approach carries over to the decision the commission will make Wednesday as residents rally to protest a plan by Wal-Mart to build the county's fourth Supercenter, this one on Barclay Avenue in Spring Hill.

There is strong opposition to the proposal, with residents in several nearby subdivisions, including Pristine Place, Silverthorn, Sterling Hill and Suncoast Villas, leading that resistance. In addition, United Communities, an umbrella organization of 20-plus homeowners associations, opposes this site for a Wal-Mart.

We commend residents for being measured and coherent in their disagreement, and we urge them to persist. This project absolutely will disrupt the neighborhood. And while they are at it, residents should ask commissioners that if it is sometimes appropriate to change the rules to enable development, isn't it sometimes just as appropriate to change the rules to discourage development?

Wal-Mart's own estimates say that traffic on Barclay Avenue will increase by 15, 000 vehicles a day. That may be a conservative calculation because even more people will use that road once it is widened in a few years to at least four lanes all the way from Spring Hill Drive to State Road 50. Indeed, Barclay one day may be a north-south collector road that rivals Deltona or Mariner boulevards in that same expanse. Barclay actually may be preferable for many drivers because there will be less retail development along the thoroughfare than Mariner.

Less than a quarter-mile down the street from the 23-acre proposed Wal-Mart site is Powell Middle School. Combined with the increased traffic the store will generate, its proximity to the school raises legitimate questions about the security of the campus and the safety of students.

This land has been designated for commercial use since the 1980s. That was when it was on the fringe of a tract that was specified as an industrial park and there was no connection to Barclay Avenue from the intersection of Spring Hill Drive and Anderson Snow Road.

Because that land-use designation was never changed, the county Planning and Zoning Commission said it had no choice but to approve Wal-Mart's request to build a Supercenter. The planners added some stipulations about access roads, but then sent the plans on to the County Commission to incur the wrath of upset residents and make a final decision.

Current zoning may allow the Wal-Mart, but the County Commission should look to the comp plan for broader guidance on this proposal. It clearly states that residential areas should be protected from "encroachment of incompatible uses that are destructive to the character and integrity of the residential environment."

That is exactly what this proposal will do and that is one of several reasons the County Commission should tell Wal-Mart to look elsewhere to build its next 185, 000-square-foot Supercenter. At the same time, the commission should instruct its planners to flag this property the next time the comp plan is being reviewed.