Some residents fighting proposed Walmart in Sarasota
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01/08/13 Seán Kinane
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In November 2011, members of Occupy Tampa used the "people's mic" to protest inside a Walmart.


photo by Mike Madison/openletternews.org.

Some residents in Sarasota are fighting against a proposed Walmart; they got a boost in their efforts Monday night when the City Commission agreed to hold a new hearing, even though the planning board approved the site plan in November. Jerry Sparkman is a local architect who opposes the Walmart.

"Walmart has proposed a new super center on this property of 98,000 square feet. There's an existing building there that's just under that of 97,500 square feet. They propose to remove that building and put back a new super center. The current zoning on the property is called CSCN which is Commercial Shopping Center Neighborhood the next few categories go small, medium, and large. It goes commercial shopping center neighborhood, commercial shopping center community, and the next one is regional so it comes in sizes. They proposed a 98,000 square foot store in a zoning district which doesn't allow big box retail. It allows small scale retail uses. Neighborhood scale commercial and the maximum size is 15,000 square feet. The appeal that has been, that was just approved for a hearing next month is regarding their site plan which does not comply with the current zoning."

This was originally approved in a 3 to 2 vote? Am I right about that?

"It was appoved by the Sarasota City planning board by a 3 to 2 vote."

And then last night there was another hearing, tell us what happened there?

"Last night was a City Commission hearing to decide if they will hear the appeal that the neighbors submitted. The neighbors submitted an appeal to bring this error to...to make them aware of it. The meeting last night was for the commission to decide if they are going to hear that appeal."

It sounds from the outside looking in that there's a pretty distinct difference between a 98,000 square foot building and a 15,000 square foot building. What is the argument in favor? What are the city commissioners, city planners saying that would allow them to make that drastic of a change?

"The staff report cites a category called large retail which is listed by definition in the zoning but the table of uses which is the table which shows what's allowed and what's not allowed does not permit that use. It's not even listed in that table and the appeal brings that to light and identifies that the only structural type that's shown in the zoning for this area is a department store and in fact a department store greater than 15,000 feet is not permitted."

You're part of some people that are opposing this Walmart besides just the technical reasons. Are there any other reasons why you're opposing having this Walmart put there?

"The discussions started with Walmart back in the summer and when they told us that they had the development rights in place to build something of this size and we assumed that was correct we encouraged them to build with greater sensitivity to the neighborhood in terms of hours of use. It's a 24 hour 7 day a week operation they're proposing currently and what's been in the past has been normal retail scale hours. 10 to 12, 10 to 14 hours a day. 7 O'clock in the morning to 9 o'clock at night. The Walmart will bring in trucks and substantial traffic increases that are about 40 percent greater than what is currently been going on in that site for the past 50 years. That was the initial discussion. It wasn't focused around zoning until we were made aware of the zoning violation that is created by the proposed site plan. The purpose of the appeal is about that the site plan does not comply with the zoning code."

You mentioned one of the next steps, if people want to get involved in this one either side of the issue, what kinds of things could they do?

"They can attend the City Commission meeting to...at this point by the City Commission agreeing to hear the appeal, any neighbor who speaks can be considered an aggreived party by definition if they're near the site and would be affected by the project. In that case, their concerns can be heard. So if they want to speak to the Commission and relay their concerns they can do that at the Commission meeting. They can write their Commissioners. They can also be a part of the neighborhood group that submitted the appeal and participate in those discussions in order to formulate a clear vision of what the neighborhood hopes to acheive."

Walmart spokesperson Bill Wertz says the big-box company will continue its efforts to build a store there.

"Our plan was approved by Sarasota's Planning Board. We were advised by the staff that no zoning changes or exemptions were needed. We were advised that the existing zoning on the site where a Publix had been is consistent with the type of retail activity that Walmart will be conducting. We beleive this is a very desirable project for the community. It will revitalize one of the city's oldest shopping areas and generate approximately 250 jobs as well as offering more affordable shopping opportunities to residents of the area."

The City Council is going to reopen the issue next month because of the zoning issue that was brought up to them. Are you pretty confident that they'll be able to rectify that. That Walmart will be able to be zoned in that spot.

"The City staff seems confident that our project falls within the zoning parameters. We'll be happy to visit with the City Commission. I should say that we have spent considerable time visiting with members of the community including nearby neighborhood organizations and have made a number of changes in our plans in response to community input. We are looking forward to the opportunity to move forward with our project and we think that many in the community support the plans that we've outlined and we hope to be able to move forward soon."

The Sarasota City Commission meets on Monday February 4.

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Haven't we had enough of this big box mentality? Support your neighborhoods by shopping locally and helping the small business people make a living. There is a Walmart on every corner in America.