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© St. Petersburg Times, published January 11, 2001
As the Pasco County Commission prepares to tackle cellular telecommunications towers, tree protection and other controls to improve the county's aesthetics, there is another area the commission should contemplate: monolithic retail buildings known by the unflattering term "big boxes."
The idea of establishing architectural guidelines for the large rectangular buildings surfaced more than two years ago with neighborhood objections to a Lowe's store that now sits near Little and Ridge roads. But the notion died when its chief proponent, Ed Collins, lost his re-election bid for commissioner.
It is an opportune time to resurrect the proposal. Super Wal-Mart stores are under construction in Seven Springs and Port Richey. Another is planned in Zephyrhills and a pair of central Pasco sites -- Collier Parkway and State Road 54 and land between U.S. 41 and North Dale Mabry Highway -- have been identified as potential sites for the big box concept, which typically includes 100,000 square feet of space.
County-endorsed controls would not be retroactive or applicable inside municipal limits. But extensive growth expected to accompany the opening of the Suncoast Parkway and in the Wesley Chapel area means more such buildings are most likely on the way.
Two days ago, the Citrus County Commission approved architectural guidelines for stores larger than 25,000 square feet. It requires landscaping, prominent entrances, parapets to shield rooftop equipment from public view and patterns on walls longer than 100 feet. (Pasco already has a landscape ordinance, but no architectural rules.) Part of the justification for the action in Citrus? Commissioners said they didn't want to look like the counties to their south.
Collins' suggestion two years ago borrowed heavily from a report in the Wall Street Journal about Collier County, where strict architectural design standards apply to all commercial structures.
Garish, bright colors are prohibited. Buildings must be painted in earth tones or pastels, though they may be bordered with a narrow band of primary color. Roofs must have at least three different levels. Retention ponds must be curved to look like lakes. Walls facing a road must have a door or windows, and drive-through windows must have a canopy or be shielded from the road. On larger buildings, walls can't run straight for more than 100 feet.
Citrus County overcame objections from its builders association and incorporated suggestions from Wal-Mart attorneys to craft its ordinance. Complaints about increased building costs surfaced in Pasco County two years ago, but were not an issue in Citrus.
The idea is simple: make developers build more attractive stores. Anyone who has driven along U.S. 19 in west Pasco can identify it as a worthwhile initiative.