Last year, when Walmart threatened to build a super center in downtown Sarasota, many said it was a done deal. Based on the number of citizens that seemed to completely acquiesce to the idea and liked the idea of the convenience it would offer whenever they got a 2am craving for a tub of gummi bears, several months later, the fight still goes on.
After whizzing through the planning board, it seemed for awhile that the Walmart mega-store would be built without a hitch. The citizens, however, had other plans. Led by former mayor Kelly Kirshner and other residents of the Alta Vista neighborhood that lines the disputed property, an appeal was filed stating that the planning board misinterpreted the zoning and that the proposed 97,000 foot store was not appropriate for the property.
The appeal process was extended to a second meeting due to the number of citizens wanting to weigh in on the project. And of course I was one of them.
Although the argument put forth by Walmart in the first week was that Walmart isn’t a department store, which is prohibited in the zoning code, they still cannot prove how one store is a shopping center. I stated as such and added that Sarasota has been designed to foster individuality, cultivate creativity, and support entrepreneurialism, all important values that will be forever lost should this shopping center become one store.
I also added that with franchises like Whole Foods, Brooks Brother, Trader Joe’s, and the upcoming P.F. Chang’s, Sarasota is no slouch, and that with as much opportunity offered by the location in question, we need not roll over on our backs and spread our legs for the first suitor that comes along. I’ve never had a gavel banged at me before.
After over three hours of comments by members of the Sarasota community, it seemed that, among those that showed up for the special meeting, the population is largely against it. There were some who liked the idea do a Walmart in the location, but it was largely due to the fact that the vacated storefronts are an eyesore. Perhaps the owner of the property shouldn’t have cut the former tenants leases short until Walmart was actually approved.
The city, the appellants, and Walmart’s lawyer were each given time for rebuttals, and the commissioners asked some questions for clarification. Willie Shaw motioned to decline the site plan with a second by Terry Turner. I don’t know who cast the third vote, but on Tuesday, February 26 at roughly 10:30pm, we beat Walmart, and I can’t even describe how good that feels