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Costco Developer to File Rezoning Request March 6

While it was announced in January that February would see a formal presentation by the Costco development team, February’s WCA meetings came and went without its appearance.

Instead, Westchase Community Association (WCA) Director Joaquin Arrillaga, chair of an association committee that has been meeting with the developer, offered an update about the project. He addressed the WCA board at its Feb. 13 meeting.

M&M Realty Partners is hoping to transform the 30-acre triangular-shaped piece of land sitting south of Linebaugh Avenue, east of Sheldon and north of Old Linebaugh Avenue. Current plans call for the construction of a 155,000 square foot Costco, a gas station, a small complex holding office space and four additional outparcels tentatively slated to hold a bank, a pharmacy, a sit-down restaurant and a drive-thru dining establishment.

Speaking with WOW, members of the WCA Committee, which has informally come to be called the Costco Committee, described a Jan. 9 special meeting of the WCA board, the committee members and the WCA’s legal counsel. At that session, the WCA’s counsel presented a memorandum of understanding from M&M Realty Partners. That memorandum was described by committee members as encapsulating all of the changes or agreements the developer had made with the WCA. The document, however, also contained language describing it as non-binding. Thus, the WCA board took no action to adopt or approve it, instead opting to wait for the developer to file for rezoning. As part of the rezoning request, the developer will submit a Plan of Development (PD). That PD application will contain binding rules on the development. It should illustrate how many of the WCA’s concerns have been addressed within the development plan.

During its discussions with the developer, The Costco Committee raised 30 points or concerns regarding the site plan, site access, architectural and landscaping details and even operational and maintenance commitments. WOW has requested on two occasions to review the document but the committee declined the first request and did not respond to the second. Based upon Arrillaga’s comments at the Feb. 13 meeting, the developer has satisfactorily addressed all the concerns but a few.

WOW has also requested copies of the developer’s submitted memorandum of understanding (MOA) from both the WCA and the developer and has not received them. Joe Marino, one of the partners of M&M Realty, responded, “While there is an MOA , it is still a collaborative and cooperative work in progress and would not be fair to the WCA Board, the county, M&M and especially the public to get something whereby language has not been finalized.”

While the WCA currently has tentative artistic renderings of the proposed buildings' elevations, provided them to WOW and made them available for viewing at the WCA Board meeting, WOW’s attempt to win permission to run some of them from M&M Realty Partners was met with no response by deadline.

At the Feb. 13 WCA meeting, Arrillaga identified three concerns that the Costco Committee is still working to resolve. As for the other issues, he expressed confidence that the developer would abide by the agreements hammered out with the committee.

Arrillaga stated that he had attended a meeting with county staff on Thursday, Feb. 6 with the developer to discuss aspects of the PD. “The reason for the meeting was [M&M Realty Partners and the WCA committee] have agreed to a lot of points and we need to have the county accept those points into the PD zoning.”

At that meeting county staff stated that while they would take into consideration the WCA’s preferences for accessing the commercial parcels from Sheldon Road and Linebaugh Avenue, the PD would ultimately contain directives from the county’s own traffic experts.

Arrillaga also stated that while the developer agreed that none of the outparcels would hold a bar or liquor store (Costco, however, will sell liquor), M&M Realty Partners would not agree to limit alcohol sales to no more than 51 percent of total sales at any of the parcels as the committee has requested. Arrillaga stated they had agreed to a higher limit, but the the county’s alcohol zoning designations do not have that particular food to alcohol ratio. Arrillaga added, however, that the county was attempting to incorporate the agreed upon limit. The alcohol restriction, however, came with a caveat. “That’s as long as Costco is the tenant,” Arrillaga said.

According to Arrillaga, in an effort to minimize the development’s impact on morning traffic, the committee has insisted that the developer commit in the PD that any store in the Costco parcel not open prior to 9:30 a.m. (Currently Costco stores nationwide open at 10 a.m. during the week at 9:30 a.m. on Saturdays.) Pinpointing traffic concerns as behind resident opposition to the development, Arrillaga stated, “If we don’t address that, we’re [out of luck] in the morning.” He added, “That’s the biggest problem we have.”

While the developer would agree to the opening hour restriction as long as the Costco occupies the big box portion of the development, M&M Realty Partners will not agree to maintain the opening restriction should the Costco close or move. “It’s a big sticking point for them,” said Arrillaga.

The WCA has taken no formal position on the development and is waiting to see the finalized PD zoning application, which, according to the developer’s attorney, will be filed March 6. Following that filing, the county will appoint an independent hearing master and schedule a zoning hearing for early June. After that hearing, the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners will vote on the zoning request in early July.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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