In a 3-2 vote Tuesday, Feb. 26, city commissioners denied the site plan for a 98,000-square-foot Walmart Supercenter on Ringling Boulevard.
The denial came in response to an appeal six residents filed Nov. 25 against the Sarasota Planning Board’s Nov. 14 approval of the store’s plan.
Commissioners Terry Turner, Shannon Snyder and Vice Mayor Willie Shaw voted to deny the site plan, thus supporting the appeal. Commissioners Paul Caragiulo and Mayor Suzanne Atwell voted to move ahead with the supercenter.
Tuesday’s meeting was the second public meeting in a continued appeal hearing against the proposed Walmart at Ringling Shopping Center. The Walmart is proposed for the site of a former Publix, which closed in November 2011.
During three-and-a-half hours of testimony, more than 50 residents spoke before the City Commission. About 65% of the residents who spoke were against the Walmart.
Jerry Sparkman, an architect and one of six residents appealing the Ringling Walmart, showed four illustrations of newer Walmarts that were built using what Sparkman considered more favorable new urbanist architectural design elements, such as being located close to the street.
Jim Porter, a lawyer for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., said the illustrations Sparkman showed would not be possible for Wal-Mart to build at the Ringling property because of the current zoning. If the property had been rezoned to Downtown Edge, as was proposed in 2008, those types of projects might be possible, Porter said.
After a brief discussion at the end of the four-and-a-half hour meeting, Caragiulo, who voted against the motion to deny the Walmart, said the city needs to consider changing the zoning code for the Ringling Shopping Center property.
“We have had problems with this Sudoku-type code for a long time,” Caragiulo said.
Turner agreed, saying the day after the meeting he believes the City Commission should consider changing the zoning on the parcel to Downtown Edge or Downtown Neighborhood, a change that would allow a more urban design project with mixed use.
“The big-box mall is wrong, and the strip mall isn’t surviving there,” Turner said. “The right economic development decision is to change the zoning on that parcel.”
Snyder also agreed that a rezone is in order, similar to a change under way for the property across the street from the Ed Smith Stadium.
Snyder said he could see the Ringling property changed to split zoning, with part zoned as Downtown Neighborhood, which allows three-story buildings, and part zoned Downtown Edge, which allows five-story buildings.
HOW AND WHY THEY VOTED
“I voted what I felt was right. I do not tailor a vote to what I think will get me votes. I think it was the right thing to do. It was not about the brand of Walmart. And that is where we get into more subjectivity. In the final analysis, I had to make a quasi-judicial decision based on whether the site plan met the code. This was the subject.” — Mayor Suzanne Atwell
“Unfortunately the conversation has been whether you are for or against a Walmart … We were there to hear an appeal of a site plan. The issue is whether it is nonconforming or not. The argument of the appellants is that it (the Ringling Shopping Center) is nonconforming, that someone cannot demolish that structure and build a similar one. According to staff, that is not the case.” — Paul Caragiulo
“I felt the neighbors and the community had a viable argument when it came to the code as it was written. The staff did an outstanding job with the work they did. I think the code was not as clear as it could have been. I supported it (the Walmart on the North Trail). But there was a difference. The Walmart (on the North Trail) was a neighborhood market, and the one on Ringling was a super Walmart. There was a difference in size.” — Vice Mayor Willie Shaw
“This was simple to me. The way the code is written now, it is not allowed. If we would have approved it (the Walmart site plan) last night, I think it would have been thrown out in court. I had no confidence we would have been able to defend that in court. If they did a zoning text amendment two years ago, I probably would have voted for it.” — Shannon Snyder
“My decision was strictly based on the code. It is incompatible with the city code … Although Walmart made a significant effort to accommodate an urban environment, the bottom line is the applicant was proposing a suburban big-box store in an urban environment. It’s not compatible with our plan.” — Terry Turner
The more than 50 residents who attended Tuesday’s meeting were split. Here is what some of them thought about the Walmart Supercenter.
It’s David versus Goliath. I’m not sure that a 98,000-square-foot big store fits there. Maybe something smaller, maybe 50,000 square feet. We’re just a tiny neighborhood. Traffic is my biggest concern. It would be fine if Wood Street was a four-lane street. But, they would have to bulldoze my apartment to do so.
— Gregg Gamaso, Alta Vista resident for 21 years
That was absolutely the right decision. I can’t believe it has gotten this far. How is this sustainable? It only shows me how sad the process is that happens here. A massive Walmart doesn’t fit in our little downtown.
— Christine Caruso, Broadway Promenade resident
I shop at Walmart. I am not against Walmart, per se. But that is just not the right property for a Walmart. It’s too big for that property. I would like to see a smaller store, like a Belk’s or Walgreens like we had years ago.
— Maxine McLawhorn, Alta Vista resident
As a property owner right next to (the proposed) Walmart, I think it will be better for me and the neighborhood. I feel like the derelict vacant property is much worse than the traffic that might come (with Walmart).
— Myron Nickel, Gardens of Ringling Park resident for 10 years
(Walmart) is the only one signing up to do anything. No one else is coming in to do anything. It’s a tremendous cost to take that building down. I want to see something done there. I don’t believe (the Walmart) will be any more traffic than when Publix was there.
— Bill Dehart,
Gardens of Ringing Park resident
It’s good to have people come and go.
I started my business 39 years ago because people were there. Right now, no one is there. If we keep protesting everything, where do we go?
— Levoie Hipps,
owner of Levoie’s Salads & Sandwiches