A 97,000-square-foot Walmart Supercenter in the Ringling Shopping Center would employ about 250 workers and provide a place for neighborhood residents to shop for groceries and medicine.
But not everyone in the surrounding neighborhood endorses the supercenter.
A group of residents near the project appealed the Sarasota Planning Board’s 3-2 Nov. 14 approval of the superstore’s site plan. The appeal was filed Sunday, Nov. 25. City commissioners will discuss the appeal and decide whether to hear the case.
“There was a fair amount of surprise by many, particularly in the neighborhood, that it was approved by the planning board,” said Kelly Kirschner, former Sarasota mayor and Alta Vista resident.
According to an email Kirschner sent to city attorney Bob Fournier Nov. 25, a group made up mostly of neighborhood leaders filed the appeal. The following individuals are appealing the planning board decision: Alta Vista residents Juanita Rawlinson and Pat Kolodgy, Alta Vista Neighborhood Association President Candy Spaulding, developer Ron Burks, architect Jerry Sparkman and Marian Maxson.
Kirschner said other neighbors he spoke with don’t feel that a large retail store fits in the residential neighborhood close to downtown. Opponents also argue the project is not allowed under the zoning code for the area.
That zoning classification, called Commercial Shopping Center Neighborhood (CSC-N), allows small-scale commercial projects and prohibits a larger “single use” commercial building, including department stores. This zoning classification is specifically intended for commercial property that borders residential areas.
The CSC-N zoning also cautions that “great care must be used to fit a center into its surroundings.”
Kirschner said that a Walmart Supercenter appears to meet the definition of a department store as defined in the city’s zoning code.
“There is some pretty clear language in the zoning code that seems to contradict the planning board’s decision,” Kirschner said.
Spaulding said the Alta Vista Neighborhood Association’s board is in support of the appeal.
The association board also voted 3-1 to dedicate about $400 to the $1,500 cost of filing an appeal with the city.
But Spaulding said board members want to get the support of residents before dedicating money toward the appeal fee, and they will poll residents at the next Alta Vista neighborhood meeting Thursday, Nov. 29.
Christine Fitzgibbons, a photographer who lives in Alta Vista, said she was relieved to hear about the appeal.
“We have three Walmarts in a five-mile radius,” Fitzgibbons said. “And how many do we need?”
Fitzgibbons said her immediate neighbors do not want to see the Walmart built, with the exception of one, a retired neighbor who is excited because she could walk to the store to get groceries.
Fitzgibbons said additional traffic through the neighborhood and the fact the store would be open 24 hours a day were her two major concerns about the project. She also wonders if a big-box store should be built in the walk-to-downtown area close to Payne Park.
“They have the most beautiful park right there, and they are going to put a Walmart near it,” Fitzgibbons said.
Spaulding said the neighborhood is divided, and not everyone opposes the Walmart store.
As part of the preliminary application process and to appease neighbors, Wal-Mart Stores moved the store closer to Ringling Avenue, thus moving the building away from the south property line, where several homes would abut the new store, said Courtney Mendez, senior planner with the city of Sarasota. Employee parking was moved to behind the store, also.
The proposed supercenter on Ringling Avenue is less than half the size of its typical supercenters, including the Walmart in South Sarasota.