Wal-Mart’s plans for a supercenter along Coconut Road in Estero have been thrown into parking gear over the issue of parking lots. Lee County officials and the retailer are at odds over how to proceed. On the site plan Wal-Mart has proposed, the drawing shows parking lots on three parcels originally set aside for other development under the site’s master plan. According to the Naples News, company representatives submitted a plan that converted three outparcels, small tracts of land near larger parcels, into parking lots for the 208,000-square-foot store planned for the northwest corner of U.S. 41 and Coconut Road. Thes case is now before the chief county hearing examiner, who could force the company to go through a rezoning process to build the store if the outparcels are not allowed to be used as parking lots. The hearing officer gave attorneys representing all parties until July 20 to submit memos outlining their interpretation of what the county’s Land Development Code says about the issue. Wal-Mart’s project manager said the company needs the additional parking to meet the retailer’s needs and county rules for parking lot spaces. The Lee County code requires 859 parking spaces for the Supercenter. Wal-Mart’s plans call for 933 spaces, but without the use of the outparcels there would not be enough space to supply the minimum number of spots. Wal-Mart’s lawyer argued that the county had not specifically mentioned that the parking lots were going to be a major issue during the hearings, and the issue was not addressed in the Land Development code. Lee County’s Zoning Director said the Code could not be read so narrowly. Outparcels are used to buffer or soften a project, county officials said. They are free-standing structures that are surrounded by landscaping to separate them from the main parcel. County staff reviewed Wal-Mart’s plans in March, but they determined those plans were inconsistent with the plan that had been approved for the overall site in 1998. Wal-Mart submitted plans for the entire 46-acre site as an administrative amendment, attempting to get the county to allow them to make small changes to a previous development order. But the county in March rejected Wal-Mart’s amendment because the plan did not match the site’s zoning, which allows a mixture of hotel, residential, commercial and light industrial uses. Four other issues outlined in the letter, including the impact of the store on the community, the size of the outparcels, the required amount of space for water retention and open areas and potential traffic problems, were withdrawn from the 3 1/2-hour hearing for future discussion. Estero citizens against Wal-Mart are not basing their case solely on the parking lot issue, but have argued that even with enough parking spaces, the site still does not have sufficient required open space. There is a retirement community across the street from the proposed superstore. Residents said they were led to believe that the parcel was going to be used for a strip mall with a few outparcels.
Wal-Mart proposed two supercenters for Estero, and both of them have run into significant opposition. For earlier stories on Wal-Mart nutty experiences along Coconut Road, search this database by “Estero.”