Securing only two votes from Sarasota County commissioners during a public hearing is usually a loss.
But, when Commission Chairwoman Carolyn Mason missed the March 6 hearing to consider a Walmart Neighborhood Market at the corner of Bee Ridge Road and Beneva Road, it would have been different.
The four remaining commissioners voted unanimously to continue the quasi-judicial decision to the afternoon session of the April 24 meeting.
Developers and concerned residents began streaming out of the Commission Chambers after Sarasota County Planning Director Tom Polk recommended waiting for Mason out of courtesy to the petitioner, represented by attorney Don Neu.
A tie vote amongst the remaining commissioners would deny the application, despite the possibility Mason’s presence would have provided a swing vote in its favor.
Nearly a week after the Sarasota City Commission denied a proposed Walmart Supercenter on Ringling Boulevard, the Sarasota County Commission planned to hear zoning changes March 6, that would redesignate the future land use of 4.03 acres on Bee Ridge Road to allow commercial development.
A 41,800 Walmart with a drive through pharmacy and 149 parking spaces would replace the 25,000 square foot River’s Edge Community Church. The parking would replace the church and wrap around a 47-inch live oak.
The delay allows residents more time to inform neighbors about the petition, which Sharon Whalon, who lives nearby, told commissioners was lacking.
County staff recommended the amendment and rezone and the Sarasota County Planning Commission unanimously approved the request Feb. 7.
Though commissioners didn’t make a decision, they did hear from at least three residents opposed to the petition.
“We don’t want to see our neighborhood slowly dissolve into nothing but commercial property,” Whalon said before the public hearing. Her concerns arose from activity a nearby property.
Myhre Properties LLC, bought 1.35 acres of property directly south of River’s Edge in January of 2009 for $650,000. Whalen cited concerns that the property could also become commercially zoned.
The property owner applied for the identical amendment and re-zone to build a 14,000 square foot commercial building Dec. 11. Sarasota County Land Development Services has not processed that application for review.
County staff concluded that the zoning and land use of surrounding parcels would be compatible with the Walmart Neighborhood Market.
With the County Commission approval, the land surrounding the intersection of Bee Ridge Road and Beneva Road would be completely designated for commercial development.
The Gettel Automotive Dealership west, Starbuck’s north and bank and shopping center to the west of River’s Edge are all zoned for commercial development. Packer Funeral Home, which is owned by Myhre, is zoned for office use but is designated as a commercial center in the Future Land Use chapter of the Comprehensive Plan.
River’s Edge Community Church Inc. Director, Pastor David McCoy, could not be reached for comment on the public hearing. The non-profit owns 23 acres of land east of I-75 near the Celery Fields, which is currently developed with a 4,800 square foot structure, built in 1980.