Everything in America is for sale, everything has a price. At Wal-Mart, they know the price of everything, and the value of nothing. On April 11, 2005, Sprawl-Busters first presented the story of Tarpon Springs, Florida, a community locked in an ugly battle against a Wal-Mart supercenter. “Our community is set around many bayous,waterways,a serene lake and the beautiful Anclote River and Preserve which is home to endangered turtles, 43 species of birds and other wildlife,” local residents wrote. “On January 19, 2005 at 6:45am after nearly 12 hours of testimony, OPPOSED by over 300 plus citizens and business owners, the Tarpon Springs Board of Commissioners voted 3 to 2 to APPROVE an enormous Wal-Mart development on the Anclote River.The site plan approved contains a 24 hour SuperCenter at nearly 24 acres in size. It includes a 1,000 space parking lot, tire and lube center and an out parcel for a restaurat or retail store plus 6 acres for residential or office development.” By one vote, the unique character of Tarpon Springs had been sold out. Residents appealed the Commissioner’s ruling, charging that they were denied due process, that the city failed to require the parcel to be rezoned, that Wal-Mart did not submit a full traffic study, that the site plan violated the city’s comprehensive plan, and that the city’s decision was influenced by prejudice and bias. On March 22, 2006 a three judge panel in the 6th. Circuit Court for Pinellas County ruled against the Concerned Citizens of Tarpon Springs in each point raised. Residents wrote Sprawl-Busters this week, saying, “Wal-Mart has won the writ that was filed by the Concerned Citizens of Tarpon Springs. The group was told by their attorney that to pursue the suit would cost as much as $200,000 more in legal fees. So the decision was made to drop the action. The attorney that was hired had required the citizens to sign personally to guarantee payment of his legal fees. As of now, $98,000 has been spent and we are $37,000 in the hole to this attorney. The 3 judge panel that gave Wal-Mart this victory deferred to the City of Tarpon that the General Business zoning was appropriate (it is not, in our opinion) for specialty retail. They plan a stop light in between two bridges on US Hgwy 19, a six lane road. When traffic backs up, people will be rear-ended at very fast speeds. The attorney had the zoning and traffic issues in the now dropped filing. I had found a traffic engineer who would do a traffic report for us for $5,000. The bottom line is we are out of money. The signers on the legal fees are scared to move ahead because of their personal guarantee. At the 12 hour hearing, Wal-Mart had said they would relocate any gopher tortoises on the property. A few months ago they got a permit to bury them.” The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Committee gave Wal-Mart permit number PIN-35, dated April 14, 2005. Under this permit, Wal-Mart is “authorized to take gopher tortoises, their eggs and
their burrows within its development boundaries where such taking is incidental to development activities.” Wal-Mart is required to contribute to the acquisition of 2.17 acres of tortoise habitat by paying $15,943 to the FWC Land Acquisitions Trust Fund, Tampa Bay account. At the hearing they said they would relocate the gopher tortoises. Their survey showed there were only 3 turtles on the 44 acres. But an adjoining landowner said there were two in their next door neighbor’s yard on the river. So there are obviously more than three on the property. The permit does not allow relocation.
To buy some goodwill in Tarpon Springs, Wal-Mart also made a $50,000 “gift” to the Little League. But it turns out that the “gift” was only to be made within 30 days of Wal-Mart being issued its building permit. So the story has a happy ending: Wal-Mart gets its superstore, the Little League gets their corporate money, and the gopher turtles get buried. Maybe the Fish and Wildlife Committee should use their $15,943 from Wal-Mart to throw a big party for the Tarpon Springs Little Leagues, and serve — what else — a nice, big helping of turtle soup. The best that can be said here is that local residents kept Wal-Mart in the soup for more than a year waiting for this legal case to play out. That’s about a $100 million loss in sales at this absurd location. For local contacts in Tarpon Springs, contact [email protected]