Officials Reassure Residents Near Gandy Wal-Mart

By JAMIE PILARCZYK

jpilarczyk@tampatrib.com

GANDY/SUNBAY SOUTH - While about 70 residents showed up at the Gandy/Sun Bay South Civic center Thursday night with grievances in mind, they walked away with solutions in hand.

Their main concern was about what they are sure will be a problem: runoff traffic from the Wal-Mart Super Store just days away from construction on the southwest corner of Gandy Boulevard and Lois Avenue.

"It's frustrating for this neighborhood and it's going to get continually worse," said Mildred McFadden, who has lived on Pearl Avenue since 1960, a stretch between Lois Avenue and Dale Mabry Highway that has become a favorite cut-through for drivers avoiding Gandy Boulevard.

County Commissioner Rose Ferlita promised to be a conduit between the community and Wal-Mart. The city's transportation division manager, Tony Rodriguez, promised to follow up post-construction to study whether Pearl Avenue is being used as a cut-through.

Al Steenson, the civic association president, said he'd work on establishing a hotline for residents to report traffic violations near Wal-Mart.

And while he recommended to the city council they not attend the meeting because of Wal-Mart's upcoming wet zoning hearing, council attorney Martin Shelby said he'd take residents' concerns to the city council about the lack of law enforcement for trucks illegally using Pearl Avenue.

"It's not a perfect situation, but I see they are working with you," said Ferlita, who has no jurisdiction over the issue. "When development and the neighborhood work together, it can be tolerable."

While still awaiting formal approval from the Florida Department of Transportation, Scott Gilner, project engineer with Kimley-Horn and Associates, said they have a dedicated right-turn lane on Gandy heading eastbound with one entrance into the Wal-Mart that includes a right-turn out of the store.

The single, left-turn lane on Gandy to Lois extends 785 feet from the light back. There will be two accesses on Lois with a dedicated right-turn lane off of Lois into Wal-Mart that both include right and left turns both in and out.

Engineers for the project said they have followed city codes and don't anticipate there being a traffic problem. If there is, though, they reassured that it would be addressed.

"We will work with the community and if you feel there is a cut-through problem, we'll come out, do traffic studies and try to mitigate it," Rodriguez said.

The stretch of Pearl Avenue from Lois east is not a truck route. If trucks are using it, it is illegal and needs to be enforced, Rodriguez said of McFadden's lament.

Some weren't appeased.

"It's seems to me like the city is saying, 'We know there's a bomb down there but we're going to wait until it goes off before we do anything about it,'" said Joseph Booker, who lives on West Shore Circle.

But some were.

"I think ultimately it will bring people to the area to shop and will attract other reputable business that will help clean-up the area," said Lee Sheldon of Gandy/Sun Bay South.

Linda Bell, owner of Triage Consignment, wasn't able to attend the meeting to voice her support for Wal-Mart. As its neighbor on Lois, Bell said the growth is good for the neighborhood with the additional taxes that Wal-Mart will be contributing.

"They've gone above and beyond the call of a retail giant to alleviate the concerns of the local residents," Bell said. "And I think it's time we just let them go with it."

Demolition is expected to begin on the 12.8-acre property within 60 days. Construction should follow soon after with an opening expected for early 2010, said lawyer Jim Porter of Ruden McClosky who represents Wal-Mart.

It will use xeriscaping, drip-irrigation and will recycle as much as they are able of the existing buildings for use as a concrete base on the new store.

The 140,000-square-foot super center will include traditional Wal-Mart merchandise plus a full grocery store and a 6,000-square-foot garden center. Porter said they will seek a permit to sell beer and wine only.

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