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Sarasota News Leader January 11, 2013 Page 21 code, they said the project did not meet city The Ringing Shopping Center borders on the zoning requirements. downtown zone, but it is not inside the line. Therefore, the process went by the existing For the specific area, the Walmart was too rules requiring a Planning Board hearing, even big, they pointed out. But they were outvoted by three other Planning Board members, and for this like-replaces-like project. And it was what should have been the final vote on the at the Planning Board stage where the self-edproject was 3-2. Because no rezoning or vari- ucated volunteers discovered what could be ances were requested, the City Commission a lethal snag in Walmart's plans. would not hear the item. Had the Walmart saga incorporated the expanded "Laurel Park compromise" approach tacitly approved by three city commissioners on Monday afternoon, Alta Vista would have had only one recourse. THE 'NUCLEAR' OPTION As Alta Vista residents pondered the view that the Walmart project was not appropriate for the site, several neighbors decided to appeal the Planning Board decision. It cost them $1,597. Residents put up some of the money; the neighborhood association put up some as well. All that guaranteed was Monday's City Commission deliberation on whether to hear an appeal. Expanding administrative approval citywide would be a blessing for the development and construction communities. By cutting out the Planning Board and City Commission, it would place heavy reliance on the professional city staff. Professionals would work with professionals and add certainty to the process, supporters would say. Certainly nobody in Alta Vista checked the zoning code to see if a 98,000-square-foot store was larger than the 15,000 square feet allowed in the zone. Only a pair of volunteer Planning Board members caught the discrepancy. You could call catching a lethal discrepancy another example of "red tape." And if during the actual appeal in early February, the City Commission votes the project down because This is exactly the same process required by of this "red tape," critics can add the "political the Laurel Park compromise plan. interference" charge, too. Walmart's situation is unusual, however, because the company's research — and city staff However, the true fault — if there is a fault — analysis — indicated the project was a per- lies not with the Planning Board volunteers fect fit in the old Ringling Shopping Center. but with the professional city staff who apNo rezoning or special exceptions or varianc- proved the project twice at the Development es would be required. It was: "like replacing Review Committee level and once again belike." Inside the downtown zone, only admin- fore sending it to the Planning Board. This is istrative approval was required for the proj- the same staff entrusted with "administrative ect: no neighborhood notice; no signs posted review" should the city decide to push the "Laurel Park Compromise" citywide. % on the property; nada.

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