Louis Doyle, meet Bert J. Harris Jr.
Mr. Doyle is the owner of the Ringling Shopping Center, the Tuesday night victim of the Alta Vista neighborhood Luddites who don’t like Walmart.
Bert J. Harris Jr. is the name of a man after whom a now-famous Florida law may soon be looming ominously over the city of Sarasota and its taxpayers, thanks to the Alta Vistans.
The Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Protection Act came into being in 1995 to help bring an end to egregious uncompensated government land takings.
According to the act, a private property owner, such as Mr. Doyle, is entitled to compensation from taxpayers if he can show the City Commission’s Tuesday vote against Walmart placed an “inordinate burden” on his property.
Here’s the threshold of an “inordinate burden”: Action that “has directly restricted or limited the use of real property such that the property owner is permanently unable to obtain the reasonable, investment-backed expectation for the existing use of the real property or a vested right to a specific use of the real property with respect to the real property as a whole, or that the property owner is left with existing or vested uses that are unreasonable such that the property owner bears permanently a disproportionate share of a burden imposed for the good of the public, which in fairness should be born by the public at large.”
If not the Walmart, pray tell, what successful retailers who have any business sense do the Alta Vistans possibly think would risk their capital opening a store in a shopping center already abandoned by one of the most successful grocery chains in America?
What’s more, Mr. Doyle says no other suitors are on the horizon. And after Tuesday, why would there be?
Alta Vistans almost eviscerated developer Ron Burks’ condominium project, proposed next to Payne Park in 2005. It took him four years to get approvals for a scaled-down project. But the land still sits vacant today (see photo). By demanding the Walmart be killed Tuesday, they just may have sealed the Ringling Shopping Center to a similar, weed-filled fate.
It certainly appears Mr. Doyle has been dealt an inordinate burden.
See you in court, taxpayers.
+ Big mistake
Unlike those who have organized the protest of the proposed Walmart on Ringling Boulevard, I actually live in the neighborhood adjacent to the property, the Gardens of Ringling Park.
The Alta Vista neighborhood, where most of the opposition resides, does not even border this property.
My neighbors and I have watched this shopping plaza die a slow death, shedding stores one by one, leaving just a lone hardware store today (a national chain franchise, by the way). It’s now a decrepit shell bordering a city gem — Payne Park.
My wife is a jogger who loves Payne Park, but her path takes her through the shopping center parking lot. She will no longer go to the park when there’s the slightest hint of dark, because she must run a gauntlet of vagrants from the parking lot to the hidden railroad tracks. It’s not safe in its current form.
The most important question is: “What is the alternative?”
There are no other developers clamoring to fix this eyesore. No other retailers asking to move into the Ringling Shopping Center.
Alta Vista nearly killed the Ron Burks project in the same area and look what has happened there since — absolutely nothing! The empty Scotty’s warehouse continues to be a blight on the area and continues to attract graffiti and vagrants. Is that really more desirable than an active store that creates jobs and tax revenue?
Don’t be misled. The opposition is solely because of the store’s name. The sudden shift of focus on the supposed code violation is a ruse.
When the opposition first cropped up, it said, “Walmart does not belong downtown.” Forget the fact that this is hardly Main Street.
They said: “Walmart does not pay decent wages.” It takes a lot of nerve to tell someone in need of a job that he cannot have one because I don’t think he’ll make enough money. Who am I to deprive someone of an income? If this were a Publix, nobody would say a word.
Alta Vista residents would never see the store. They would never hear the trucks. They would never see any traffic on their residential streets. That would be like my telling Mayor Suzanne Atwell that a project on Bird Key will adversely affect me.
To Commissioners Shannon Snyder and Terry Turner and Vice Mayor Willie Shaw, you should have listened to your current planning department employees, whose full-time job it is to examine whether properties like this meet the code. They have already deemed that it does. You should have paid any attention to a former employee who said otherwise. You had no idea what kind of agenda he might have had.
When the city needs a growing tax base and everyone is pleading with local government to help create jobs, it was a big mistake to kill this project.
Gardens of Ringling Park
(Roy is a former managing editor of the Sarasota Observer.)