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Home Depot withdraws from site

Despite a favorable zoning ruling, the store makes a "strategic decision'' to expand elsewhere.

By JACKIE RIPLEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 11, 2000


CITRUS PARK -- Is a giant store such as Home Depot okay on land zoned "neighborhood commercial?"

A land use hearing officer recently ruled it could be. But while the home improvement giant won the battle, they have already withdrawn from what likely would have been a long, bitter war to build a store on Gunn Highway, where opponents said it wouldn't fit in.

Keith Bricklemyer, attorney for the land owner, said the company "is no longer interested in the site."

Don Harrison, company spokesman, said that it was "a strategic decision" and that Home Depot is "still looking at other opportunities in that area."

Bricklemyer said the 13-acre site at Gunn Highway and Lake Grace Drive will be developed, but he couldn't say what kind of business will ultimately occupy the site.

Residents who opposed Home Depot argued it would be too intense for the surrounding area. Though the land has been zoned for commercial use for years, it has been designated for so-called neighborhood commercial use, typically a shopping center with several smaller retail outlets.

When Bricklemyer sought a "minor change" to the site plan to allow a single "big box" retailer instead of a multitenant shopping center, a zoning administrator denied the request, saying the change in use was too great.

Bricklemyer appealed, and on May 23 land use hearing officer Margaret Tusing ruled in his favor.

"The critical issue is that the county doesn't define what a "big box' is," Bricklemyer said, so therefore can't rule that such stores don't belong in neighborhood commercial zoning.

Home Depot, meanwhile, was busy planning expansion in the Town 'N Country area.

Last week, the MONY Life Insurance Co., owner of a 14-acre complex on the southwest corner of Hillsborough Avenue and Memorial Highway, requested a rezoning so that it can renovate the mostly vacant shopping plaza and center it around a Home Depot.

Harrison, the Home Depot spokesman, said the decision to build at Hillsborough and Memorial had nothing to do with pulling out of Citrus Park.

-- Jackie Ripley can be reached at (813) 226-3468 or ripley@sptimes.com.

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