Sarasota’s Development Review Committee met Wednesday, June 20, on a preliminary review of Walmart’s plans to build a 98,000-square-foot Supercenter on Charles Ringling Boulevard. The company would raze the existing Ringling Plaza Shopping Center, said Joshua Bryant, an engineer retained by Walmart to supervise the project.
Bryant said, “We intend to have a voluntary neighborhood meeting” with the public to lay out the plans and hear neighborhood concerns.
Because underlying commercial zoning is in place, no re-zone or land-use change is required. The only opportunity for public comment that had been scheduled was a site-plan evaluation in front of the city’s Planning Board. Only if that board turned it down would the issue go before the Sarasota City Commission.
Since The Sarasota News Leader broke the story of the proposed downtown Walmart, there has been great interest in the project from the two adjoining neighborhoods. The Alta Vista neighborhood to the south of the site will review the project at its next meeting. The Gardens of Ringling Park Neighborhood Association to the east appears dormant.
Lenny Scherry with the city’s Engineering Department brought up two issues during the meeting this week. At the intersection of Ringling and Lime, there are a number of utility and signal masts for signs, wires and traffic lights that might be impacted. Scherry suggested Bryant keep an eye on those. He also said the project would need to make improvements in the curb, gutter and sidewalk along the south side of Charles Ringling Boulevard.
The Development Review Committee is composed of senior and mid-level staffers who check developers’ plans for compliance with city requirements – fire hydrant spacing, landscaping, tree preservation, mass-transit options, stormwater treatment and a host of other facets. The system is designed to prevent late-breaking surprises for developers and their representatives.
Scherry brought up the only substantial challenge to the plan – truck access. The original plan calls for trucks to enter the northwestern corner of the property, then drive down the western side of the property to access the rear of the store. However, the entrance appears to infringe on railroad property, he said. “Could Walmart [trucks] use the regular public access?” asked Scherry.
“”We’ve been re-evaluating since we received your comment. It was an existing access point,” said Bryant. “Was it grandfathered?”
Sherry said any new development would have to be in full compliance with the regulations and therefore would not eligible for any grandfather provisions.
“We’re now looking at direct access from Fruitville; we’re exploring that right now,” said Bryant. “We’d come up Lime and eliminate any turning movements on Ringling.”
All the basic infrastructure is in place from the days of the Ringling Shopping Center. Nonetheless, new fire hydrants will be required, and an easement must be obtained for the store to tap into a 10-inch watermain.
Gretchen Schneider, the general manager for Neighborhoods and Development Services, asked for more specifics to soften noise and other irritations at the rear of the store. “I’ll need to know more about your mitigation to the rear to absorb some of the activity going on,” she said.
The current plan calls for the building to face Ringling, fronted with a large parking lot. Urbanist design would put the building much closer to the street, with parking to the south. But that complicates the mechanics of trash and recycling material removal, restockng and resupplying.
Walmart has a variety of options for building design. So far no “elevation drawings” have been offered to give the committee or the public an idea of what the final structure will look like.
Planner Courtney Mendez said elevation drawings will be required as part of the application for site-plan review. “We’re especially interested in the design features to minimize the appearance of large, blank walls,” she said. “We favor windows in the front, as well as other architectural treatments to improve the appearance of the building.”
“We understand setbacks and design constraints prevent the building from being placed close to the street,” she said. “But maybe some treatment with the stormwater area might enhance the view along Ringling Boulevard. This is a gateway coming into the downtown area.”
Apartment complex unveiled
Before turning to the Walmart project, the development review committee spent time addressing a 150-unit apartment complex. This would require a change to the city’s comprehensive plan’s future land-use map to unify the zoning.
The parcel, located at 4644 N. Tamiami Trail, is commonly known as “the Asian Museum property.” In addition to the apartments, the developer would like to provide commercial space on the ground floor, facing U.S. 41.
“I feel there is a tremendous need for market-rate apartments to service downtown,” said developer Frank Genasi. “We know it’s not downtown, but there’s good bus service here.”