Correction: The Planning Board decision is final and the plans do not go to the city commission for approval.
The first Walmart Supercenter in Sarasota in city limits will be built after the Planning Board approved the site plan Wednesday night.
Walmart proposed a 24-hour, 98,000-square-foot store to replace the Ringling Shopping Center that includes a vacant Publix and several stores that are due to leave the shopping center empty.
The Planning Board approved the planl 3-2.
Planning Board member Jennifer Ahearn-Koch opposed the plan because she believed Walmart met the definition of a department store, which wouldn't be allowed in the neighborhood commercial zoning. Planning Board member Susan Chapman also believed the plan didn't meet the definition for a "small-scale development" in the code.
Several neighbors who spoke during the public hearing wanted Walmart to preserve a safe crossing and pathway to Payne Park from the homes in Gardens of Ringling Park.
"My concern is that we'll cut off Payne Park," resident Robert Davis said. "The entire neighborhood uses this park."
James Reese, a lawyer with Tampa-based Adams and Reese representing Walmart Stores, said that designers have examined how to put a sidewalk or pathway at the rear of the store for access to Payne Park, but Walmart ran into several issues:
- A stormwater retention pond placed at the south end of the property near a fence line was situated there to eliminate the need for lighting, preventing light shining into neighboring homes. Lighting the area or a walkway there would create complaints by neighbors.
- Walmart would also need approval from CSX to improve the railroad tracks approach and area, and that would be difficult to achieve. However, city senior planner Courtney Mendez said the city would be able to work with CSX to help resolve that issue.
- Police and the Walmart Home Office in Bentonville reviewed suggestions and deemed walkways there would be unsafe due to pedestrians being near truck traffic at the loading docks.
Myron Nickel, president of the Gardens of Ringling Park Neighborhood Association, said he supports development there, but would like the parking lot be moved farther from homes to cut down on noise. Yet overall, his neighborhood association didn't have a lot of opposition for the project, he said.
"Quite frankly—not had an upswell of opposition in my neighborhood association for this," Nickel said. "... Right now we have a ghost town at this site, and I think something within reason is going to be better than what we have."
Planning Board Chairman Morton Siegel praised Walmart in his experiences working with clients who dealt with the company in his restaurant work.
"I can assure you that Walmart is not going into this business to turn their back against the community," Siegel said.
Siegel urged the community to work with Walmart to address any issues that come up, and mentioned the company has a Good Neighbor program and neighborhood ambassador at the store to address neighborhood complaints.
Some residents opposed the 24-hour operation wondering who would shop there in the late hours.
Lakewood Ranch resident Ernest Smith is a Walmart Human Resources Director for the South Region based in Doral and said Walmart studies showed that men tend to shop in the store late.
"What we discovered is that men typically shop for their families late in the evening, and men are taking their opportunity to shop in the evening or late at night while they're looking for jobs in the afternoon," he said.
In regards to the 24-hour concerns, Planning Board member Chris Gallagher said some activity is better than no activity at all. Businesses owners at the Ringling Shopping Center who spoke to Patch this year echoed those sentiments about the crime and shoplifting they witness in the dead shopping center and had hoped a Walmart could reverse that.
Planning Board member Vald Svekis said all the concerns and complaints about the Walmart Neighborhood Market on the North Trail at Myrtle Stret went away weeks after the store opened, and thinks that will be the same for this project.
"I think this is something that's needed in Sarasota downtown," he said.
Appearance of the store was also a hot topic, as residents wanted a unique Walmart. Architects are working with Ringling College of Art and Design students to conceive a large art piece on the walls, said Michael Blinn of BRR Architecture, but what that will be they're not sure yet as he's trying to continue to get feedback from the community.
The tilework on the closed Publix could not be preserved, said Michelle Belaire, Walmart's senior manager of public affairs and government relations.
As for the architecture, Walmart meets what City Code requires, and tries to blend in with the community, but there wasn't a dominant style of building in the neighborhood, Belaire said.
Walmart officials said earlier this year that construction would take a year, and the targeted opening date is in 2014. When open, as many as 250 to 300 people would be hired.
This would be the first Walmart Supercenter in city limits and the second Walmart in city limits now that the Walmart Neighborhood Market opened in September.
- Walmart Proposes 'Small Supercenter' At Ringling Shopping Center
- Proposed Ringling Boulevard Walmart Moves Forward
- VIDEO: Walmart Discusses Proposed Sarasota Supercenter
- Proposed Walmart Gets Planning Board Date