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City may allow Walmart at Ringling Shopping Center

Sarasota City Attorney Robert Fournier has drafted a settlement agreement asking the owner of the property to drop litigation in exchange for more flexible zoning rules.

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  • | 10:45 a.m. June 11, 2015
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The Ringling Shopping Center may be on the brink of of another battle over Walmart.

On Monday, Sarasota city commissioners will decide whether to ask the owner of the mostly vacant property for a legal truce in exchange for a city-initatied rezone of the property. Possible uses under the new zoning — a combination of Downtown Edge and Downtown Neighborhood Edge — include mixed-use residential and office units, as well a wide range of retail options, according to City Attorney Robert Fournier.

"Contrary to what has been stated in the course of the current litigation, the city of Sarasota is not opposed to the redevelopment of your property," Fournier wrote in a draft settlement. "The city seeks only to apply its form based new urbanist 'downtown zones' to the property so as to promote a better planned more seamless transition from the downtown core moving east into the adjacent residential neighborhoods.”

The city would have to undertake a small-scale comprehensive plan amendment, which wouldn't require submittal to the state for review, and a rezone, which could be pursued concurrently. Fournier said he could not say how long such a process would take.

The offer hinges on the Ringling Shopping Center owners halting litigation against the city stemming from the 2013 denial of a Walmart Supercenter. Commissioners will have the alternative option to make no concessions to the owners and continue the court case.

"The thinking that prevailed was that the future land use classification and zoning of your property could be addressed at an appropriate future time. Perhaps that time has come.” — City Attorney Robert Fournier

The city's response is required as part of the proceedings for the shopping center owners' pursuing claims under the Bert J. Harris, Jr. Private Property Rights Protection Act.

"If the property were re-classified and re-zoned as proposed, a Wal-Mart store selling the combination of items as proposed by (the original site plan) would be a permitted use of the property, subject to the applicable development standards for the downtown zones,” Fournier wrote.

The decision will come about a month after a Facebook page titled “Revitalize Ringling Shopping Center,” surfaced, and Vice Mayor Suzanne Atwell made comments at two city commission meetings supporting the rezone of the blighted property.

“This could change the whole dynamic of that neighborhood, of Payne Park, of the city and county,” Atwell said in a previous interview with the Sarasota Observer. “It all ties in.”

Despite the fact that the Ringling Shopping Center owners lost their contract with Walmart following the 2013 denial, a public relations squabble over the property and the potential for the big-box store has surfaced.

Another Facebook page titled "We Don't Want Walmart at Ringling Shopping Center" appeared this week, along with a petition on Change.Org against allowing the retailer to open in the property. More than 100 people have signed the petition and the page has reached 311 likes.

An Observer survey found several residents in favor of a Walmart at the location, with two against it and dozens of other ideas of what they would want to see open at the site.

"The Ringling Shopping Center could be an extension of our vibrant downtown, with shops, restaurants and a grocery store,” said Alicia King. "Trader Joe's please!"

Others suggested a market filled with local vendors, an urban farm or other retailers, including Kroger, Aldi or Food City.

Fournier said he has received several emails from nearby residents who have expressed support for redeveloping the property.

The city declined a similar zoning change for the property in 2008.

"The thinking that prevailed was that the future land use classification and zoning of your property could be addressed at an appropriate future time," Fournier wrote in the memo. "Perhaps that time has come.”


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