Re-zoning for Walmart on Bee Ridge approved 3-2, faces contention in community

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The construction of a Walmart in downtown Sarasota’s former Ringling Shopping Center is a contentious one within the community. There are various sides to the argument regarding re-zoning in order to allow the shopping center to be built.

The Sarasota County Commissioners voted three to two in support of the re-zoning, simultaneously creating disapproval and support from two sides.

“I was one of the two who voted to deny the site plan, because it did not meet the site plan approval criteria,” City Commissioner Susan Chapman said. “The land owner appealed to Circuit Court saying the appeal was not timely.”

Chapman does not believe that the neighbors were the aggrieved parties in question, nor has she yet read the pleadings from the Circuit Course case.

Others approve of the plan, especially since it would provide at least 100 new jobs for people in Sarasota. Its convenience as a source of shopping for local people looking for low prices is also important to many community members.

“The issue was that they wanted to put this ‘big box’ store very close to a neighborhood, … an area that is mostly small businesses, like the downtown stores and other small places on Ringling,” alum and former Catalyst editor Eva Gray (’09) said. “However Walmart said that they have a ‘Good Neighbor Policy’, meaning that they were intentional about having meetings with the public to decide what was best for building in the neighborhood, but the proposal ended up dividing neighbors.”

There are other people who see it as a convenience for the city, a way to make shopping for necessary goods as positive for the neighborhood.

“My mom works less than a mile from there [Bee Ridge],” first-year Andrea Slowik said. “I shopped there a lot, and I liked it. It’s a nice Walmart. It’s not the newest, fanciest one, and the parking lot is really shitty, but it’s fine. The parking lot is the most convoluted idiocy. Trying to get into the Walmart from the south end of Cattlemen is a joke, and an accident waiting to happen when you leave. Plus, the northern entrance/exit is not very clear on right of way, and can be dangerous, especially in tourist season.”

Each side has its arguments. The need for jobs in Sarasota cannot be overlooked, which can be seen by the numerous people standing on highway intersections with signs asking for money, food or jobs. On the other hand, there is a fear of how local businesses will suffer, and if there will be job losses because of it.

“Another issue is food security and ‘food deserts’ in our communities,” Slowik said. “The Winn-Dixie on Myrtle and 41 closed, and there was a real need for a grocery store. Then came Walmart on a white horse. Now, with the Sweetbay down on Bee Ridge closing, Walmart again will swoop in. But where does that leave the community?”

Another issue that cannot be overlooked is Walmart’s tendency to pay employees just under the amount needed for benefits, such as healthcare. Furthermore, many Walmarts traffic in large trucks throughout the day and night is an issue that could create a nuisance. In the end though, the consequences will not be evaluated until the store is built.

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