Goodwill Manasota and developer Jebco Ventures Inc. turned the dirt and held a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday on the site of a future Goodwill Superstore on the North Trail. The developer is proceeding with the project while a legal challenge filed by a nearby resident awaits future hearings.
If a Sarasota Circuit Clerk of Court judge overturns the city’s approval of the project, the company would have to tear down the store.
But Tuesday, the one-hour groundbreaking ceremony focused on moving ahead.
“We’re looking at this in a positive light and confident everything will go smoothly going forward,” said Goodwill Manasota spokesperson LuAnn Kirschner.
City commissioners declined to hear an appeal by Citizens for Reasonable North Trail Development in December, upholding its Planning Board’s decision to approve the 29,699-square-foot store at the corner of U.S. 41 and Myrtle Street. The move meant approximately 40 Sapphire Shores residents opposed to the store couldn’t speak at the meeting.
The Goodwill store will replace an existing, aging Goodwill location at 3333 N. Tamiami Trail.
The new store, which will sit approximately 12 blocks away from the site of a new Walmart grocery store, would have approximately 80 employees, compared to the 60 employees at the current location.
Robert Casella, a nearby Sapphire Shores resident, filed a petition against the project Feb. 27; the petition said the project is too massive, has improper zoning and not enough intersection improvements for the site.
Casella believes a store of that size should not have been approved under city codes and shouldn’t be built at an intersection that does not have a traffic signal.
The Florida Department of Transportation, however, signed off on the project.
Sarasota city attorney Robert Fournier, who first told the commission the appeal was filed too late, reversed course last month after Casella claimed he was told conflicting information by the Auditor and Clerk’s Office.
“It’s an argument he was entitled to make, and I thought it best to proceed given the conflicting information,” Fournier said.
The pending petition appeal, which includes a May 22 hearing for a judge to review a motion to dismiss the appeal by Goodwill attorney Robert Lincoln, has not deterred the store’s construction plans.
A permit for the project was issued to Jebco Ventures after Fournier discussed the issue and made it known Jebco was proceeding at its own risk.
“Jebco has pulled a permit with the understanding they are assuming risk in the event the court agrees with the petitioner,” Fournier said.
The greatest risk Goodwill and Jebco face, Fournier said, is the possibility they would have to tear down what’s built if the court sides with Casella.
“I’m not sure I would have moved ahead because one of the risks involves the revocation of the permit and putting the property back the way it was,” Fournier said.
Paige McMichael, a spokesperson for Citizens for Reasonable North Trail Development, sent a press release this week with similar concerns.
“Many developers do not take such a risk, but Goodwill has apparently decided it has sufficient excess funding that it will risk the construction and demolition funds by moving forward before the appeal is decided,” said McMichael, in the press release.
But Lincoln said his client has a strong case, and he doesn’t foresee Goodwill having to stop construction and tear down what’s built.
“We don’t think Mr. Casella has standing, and we filed a motion to dismiss on that basis,” Lincoln said. “I don’t believe his claims have any merit whatsoever.”
Lincoln said his client’s position is that Casella had clear notice when he was supposed to file a petition, and he was required to check the public records to see when the order was final.
“(Casella’s) position is he wasn’t required to check when the order was final because the Auditor and Clerk’s Office didn’t tell him to look,” Lincoln said. “We don’t believe that is a valid argument.”
Lincoln said the project also shouldn’t be treated as half commercial and half industrial, because Casella claims the store is not inconsistent with the way any other store on the North Trail operates.
“The fact there’s shipments coming in at different times doesn’t mean it permits them (Goodwill) to operate at only certain times of the day,” Lincoln said. “If that was the case, every grocery store and similar shop would be in violation of zoning codes as well for receiving shipments before or after operating hours.”