If Walmart wants to build a new store in the Ringling Shopping Center, the big box will have to go to court.
The City Commission on Tuesday night narrowly denied Walmart's site plan for a proposed 98,000-square-foot Supercenter on Ringling Boulevard.
Commissioners Shannon Snyder, Vice Mayor Willie Charles Shaw and Terry Turner voted to deny the site plan while Mayor Suzanne Atwell and Commissioner Paul Caragiulo voted against. The hearing was continued from Feb. 19.
"The applicant is proposing, essentially, a suburban big box store in an urban environment," Turner said.
The City Commission was tasked with deciding whether the Walmart's site plan complies the the CSC-N zoning code.
"It brings forth the flaws presently found in our codes," Shaw said.
The appellants, a group of neighbors from the Alta Vista neighborhood, argued that Walmart is defined as a department store as well as being too large for a store of its sized for the property, according to code.
The appellants are:
- Candy Spaulding, President, Alta Vista Neighborhood Association.
- Juanita Rawlinson, Secretary and past President, Alta Vista Neighborhood Association.
- Pat Kolodgy, Sargent at Arms & past President, Alta Vista Neighborhood Association.
- Kelly Kirschner, past President, Alta Vista Neighborhood Association, former mayor
- Jerry Sparkman, partner, Sweet Sparkman Architects,
- Marian A. Maxson Martin, neighbor
The commission members had to base their decision on competent substantive evidence, which means that though the three hours of public testimony may help in a decision, it doesn't bear enough weight to be the end-all. Instead, the commission relied on evidence and testimony provided by the appellants, city staff and Walmart to argue whether or not the project's site plan is acceptable under the Sarasota's zoning plan.
Atwell sided with staff's arguments that if Walmart wasn't going to be allowed as a large store, then the Southgate Mall and other developments should have been denied.
"To me, the staff testimony has met the interpretation of the code in a substantive, competent manner," Atwell said.
Caragiulo said after the vote that the city's code needs work after the uncertainty found in the language exposed by both sides.
"Something needs to be done about our code," Caragiulo said.
Turner recognized how much city staff were beat up by the public in the testimony, and does not blame them for what happened with the project.
"I find the city staff work on this project to be professional and exemplary," he said. "The criticisms by appellants against staff were I think, completely inappropriate."
Now the city commission is obliged to state in writing all the reasons for denial, according to City Attorney Robert Fournier.
Walmart could appeal the commission's decision by taking the case to Circuit Court, and that decision remains to be seen.
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