Lowes receives change for Tarpon Springs store listen04/08/08 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Tuesday | Listen to this entire show:
Pinellas County Commissioners today disregarded the recommendations of their staff and the staff of the Pinellas Planning Council (PPC) by unanimously approving a change in the county’s land use plan.
The amendment will allow construction of a Lowe’s big box hardware store on property previously zoned for industry on U.S. 19 in Tarpon Springs. Lowe’s will be required to spend about $4-million on traffic changes on the site.
David Healy, executive director of the PPC, told Commissioners that Lowe’s would add a traffic light on U.S. 19 and reroute roads through wetlands on the property.
While the staff of the PPC recommended against the land use change, the PPC members voted 6-5 to support it in their meeting last month. The amendment will change the zoning from Industrial Limited to Commercial General.
Several County Commissioners said they were reluctant to give up any industrial lands because of their potential value for high wage jobs. Currently Tarpon Springs industries have difficulty getting their tractor trailers to and from U.S. 19, but the traffic changes Lowe’s would make on the property could help all industry in the city, according to Renee Vincent, planning and zoning director for Tarpon Springs.
Adding a traffic light would change the traffic rating of that stretch of U.S. 19 from the best rating, an A, to the worst, an F. Many of the commissioners and city representatives said this amendment to the Adopted Countywide Future Land Use Plan would be a one-time exception. But before he voted for the land use change, Commission Chair Robert Stewart warned that it would instead set a precedent.
Before she voted to support the land use change, County Commissioner Susan Latvala questioned whether allowing the Lowe’s development was not just a trade-off for the county to receive a desired street and traffic light.
A controversial proposed Wal-Mart in Tarpon Springs along the Anclote River may or may not get approved. If it does, Wal-Mart has to contribute $175,000 to add the traffic light in front of the proposed Lowes. But if the Wal-Mart development does not get approved, then Lowes is responsible for funding the light.
Brian Smith, the county’s planning director, said changing from the zoning would greatly increase traffic in the area.
Steve Henry is with Lynx and Associates, the traffic engineers and civil engineers hired by the developers for the project. Henry disputed the county’s traffic numbers.
No members of the public spoke against the zoning change of this 13-acre parcel, only county employees. A total of 2.2 acres of the site would remain zoned industrial. That is where the ACME sponge business is located and plans to expand operations.