Sarasota Circuit Judge Lee Haworth’s recent ruling will keep the North Trail’s new Goodwill store on schedule to open in three months.
The 30,000-square-foot Goodwill has been under construction for several months — despite an appeal filed in the 12th Judicial Sarasota Circuit Court by Robert Casella, a member of a group of residents opposed to the project. Opposing residents say the store does not fit in the neighborhood’s zoning and would add nighttime truck traffic and noise.
A court ruling favoring Casella could have required Goodwill to stop construction on the new center. Haworth, however, denied the appeal in a ruling issued Wednesday, Nov. 14.
The appeal was turned down because Casella did not have “standing” to appeal the Sarasota Planning Board’s approval of the store, under construction at the corner of North Tamiami Trail and Mecca Drive.
“There is no evidence in the record that Casella requested affected person status in accordance with the (Planning) Board’s procedure,” Judge Haworth wrote in his decision.
Casella also did not meet the state’s standards for being an “affected person,” Haworth concluded. Haworth contended that Casella, who lives two blocks from the Goodwill construction site, would not be impacted by the project any more than the community as a whole.
The decision means Goodwill will continue working toward an anticipated Valentine’s Day completion date.
“There is a sense of relief,” said Veronica Miller, vice president of the foundation at Goodwill Manasota, “relief for many parties involved: the developer, dedicated supporters, people looking for jobs and our staff.”
Miller said the store will transfer 53 workers from another store that is closing, on the North Trail, and create an additional 13 jobs. In addition to providing new jobs in the community, an onsite Job Connection employment center will help people find area employment. The center will also house GED classes.
Casella’s appeal was filed with the Sarasota Circuit Court Feb. 27.
The appeal was the high-tide effort of nearby residents in the Indian Beach/Sapphire Shores neighborhood who were opposed to the Goodwill center and were upset that the Planning Board approved the project. Residents also formed the group Citizens for Responsible North Trail Development.
Despite the pending appeal, Goodwill Manasota broke ground on the Goodwill center in April. Goodwill knew the risk going forward and signed an agreement with the city in March agreeing to not hold the city accountable if the court decision forced it to halt the project.
Casella said he plans to meet with some neighbors and closely read the judge’s decision to determine if he will appeal the ruling or accept the conclusion.
“Basically, we lost on a technicality, rather than the merits of the case,” Casella said. “It is a dangerous intersection there. (The Goodwill) is basically a truck-distribution center for five or six other stores.”
In Haworth’s ruling, the judge wrote that Casella’s argument that the project did not fit in the North Trail zoning and that the store would produce excessive traffic impacts “did not constitute competent substantial evidence.”