Solutions Sought On New Wal-Mart

January 21,2009

By JAMIE PILARCZYK
jpilarczyk@tampatrib.com

GANDY/SUN BAY SOUTH - About 70 residents came to the Gandy/Sun Bay South civic center Thursday with grievances in mind but left 90 minutes later with solutions in hand.

Their main concern was about what they are sure will be a problem: cut-through traffic from a Wal-Mart Super Store just days away from the launch of its construction at 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 since 1960 has lived on Pearl Avenue, 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, vowed to follow up post-construction to determine if Pearl Avenue is being used as a cut-through.

Al Steenson, president of the Gandy/Sun Bay South Civic Association, said he would work to establish a hot-line for residents to report traffic violations near Wal-Mart.

And while he recommended Tampa City Council members not attend the meeting because of Wal-Mart's upcoming wet-zoning hearing for the site, council attorney Martin Shelby said he would take residents' concerns to the city council about a 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 there likely will be a right-turn lane on Gandy heading eastbound with one entrance into the Wal-Mart that includes a right-turn out of the store's parking lot.

The single, left-turn lane on Gandy to Lois extends 785 feet back from the intersection's traffic signal. A right-turn lane off Lois with two accesses into Wal-Mart will help alleviate potential backup on Gandy.

Engineers for the project said they have followed city codes and don't anticipate a traffic problem. If there is, though, they assured 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 eastward is not a truck route. If trucks are using it, it is illegal, and that provision should be enforced, Rodriguez said.

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 others were satisfied.

"I think ultimately it Wal-Mart 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, said she was not able to attend the meeting, but supports Wal-Mart's plan. As its neighbor on Lois, Bell said growth is good for the neighborhood with the additional taxes Wal-Mart will contribute.

"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 acres 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.

Plans call for xeriscaping, drip-irrigation and recycling suitable concrete from existing buildings on the site.

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

http://southtampa2.tbo.com/content/2009/jan/21/st-solutions-sought-on-new-wal-mart/news/

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