Sarasota, FL. Neighbors Say Wal-Mart Store Is Not Legally Zoned
Activists in Sarasota, Florida are battling to prevent the construction of a 98,000 s.f. Wal-Mart store on Ringling Boulevard. The Alta Vista Neighborhood Association (AVNA) has hired an attorney and land use planner to demonstrate that the big box store is incompatible with the local zoning ordinance, and was illegally approved.
In August of 2012, a developer submitted plans to the City of Sarasota to demolish an existing 97,779 square foot shopping center and replace it with one Wal-Mart almost th size of two football fields. With very little publicity, and even less due diligence, in November the Sarasota Plannning Board approved the project site plan permit on a 3-2 vote. Roughly two weeks after that vote, the Alta Vista neighborhood association voted 26 to 1 to appeal the Planning Board's decision.
In a 42 page report prepared for the AVNA, land use planner Michael Taylor, who formerly worked as the city's General Manager of Neighborhoods, Redevelopment & Special Projects, concluded that a goal of the city's zoning ordinance is to "encourate compatible land uses." The project is located on land classified as "Neighborhood Commercial...which requires new development/redevelopment to be sensitive to the adjacent neighborhoods in order to assure compatibility with them."The zoning district also requires that projects in a neighborhood commercial zone be "pedestrian-oriented, providing small scale uses, and minimal impact to adjacent residential uses." On this parcel, a "department store" is not allowable, nor is any other type of retail structure. The term "department store" in the zoning code refers to any retail structure larger than 15,000 s.f.
AVNA is arguing, among other things, that the according to the city's zoning code, the city, "in reaching a decision...shall consider the extent to which the application is consistent with the Zoning Code, generally accepted site design principles and the extent to which the development furthers the goals and purposes of the Zoning Code." When the developer applied for a site plan approval, the city failed to consider if this huge project was compatible with city's zoning code.
AVNA has asked the city to hold a new hearing on the Walmart proposal, to address their charge that the project is illegal under existing zoning. The Sarasota City Commission is holding a meeting on Monday, January 7 in the City Hall Commission Chambers. Included on the agenda is a discussion on whether or not to hold a new public hearing as requested by AVNA.
According to the neighborhood association, retired Planner Taylor is prepared to state at the January 7th hearing that the Planning Board "improperly approved the Wal-Mart Site Plan for a use that is not permitted in the CSC-N zone district and that the City erred in not finding that the proposed use for this Site Plan was not a permitted use in the subject zone. As such this site plan should not have been forwarded to the Planning Board for consideration of approval."
AVNA needs to get a super majority of 4 votes out of the 5 members of the City Commission to allow Michael Taylor's full testimony into the record at a "do-over" public hearing in February.
AVNA has asked those in the community who support this momentary pause and greater analysis by our elected officials to wear the color yellow of caution to the Commission chambers on Monday evening.
What you can do: Readers are urged to email the Sarasota Mayor Suzanne Atwell, who serves as an at-large member of the City Commission, at: Suzanne.Atwell@sarasotagov.com with the following message:
"Dear Mayor Atwell,
I urge you to hold a new public hearing to allow the Alta Vista Neighborhood Association to introduce the testimony of Michael Taylor into the record regarding the site plan proposal for the Wal-Mart proposal.
This project is inharmonious with the city's zoning ordinance, and an illegal use in the specific zoning for this parcel.
This is not a project that will create jobs or revenue for the city -- because its jobs and sales will come from existing merchants. Wal-Mart is a form of economic dislocation, not economic development.
You already have two Wal-Mart superstores located in Sarasota, and a total of 9 Wal-Mart stores within 13 miles of Sarasota. Your trade area is saturated with Wal-Marts, so all this project will do is push more market share to Wal-Mart, at the expense of the city's other retailers.
This project should never have received a site plan approval, but it is not too late for the Commission to correct the record on this project. As Mayor, you should lead growth, not follow it. Come up with a plan that is truly neighborhood-serving, not more big box sprawl."