It’s tough getting readers up-to-speed on urban design — but luckily Walmart, urbanism’s favorite whipping boy, provides a decent crash course right here in Sarasota.
Walmart is going to plop down two stores within our urban fabric: a smaller “neighborhood” store at the corner of Myrtle and US-41 on the North Trail and a “small Supercenter” at Ringling and Lime on the edge of downtown.
It was not supposed to be this way. These two areas were supposed to be higher-density, mixed-use places close to downtown where the decisions to drive, walk or bike were equally attractive. Not downtown high-density, but middle-high … the kind where students, teachers, Walmart sales associates and people priced out of west of the Trail could enjoy proximity to downtown.
North Trail has been the center of lots of planning for years. The most complete report, “Innovation 41,” was a 2006 effort to plan nodes along US-41 from downtown to north of the Manatee County border. In the plan, the intersection of Myrtle and 41 was to be a Town Center with a new zoning code and regulations to introduce more housing, higher density and quality buildings. Last year, the North Trail Redevelopment Partnership presented a new code and the Florida Department of Transportation has started to develop a mobility plan.
In town, the Ringling Shopping Center, the first auto-oriented center constructed in Sarasota, will be torn down for a Walmart. The small Supercenter will sit next to a 10-ish acre parcel that was going to be Payne Park Village — a mixed-use, medium-density neighborhood. That plan drew cautious support from the neighborhood, but was approved just as the real estate market crashed.
Despite millions of dollars and hours invested in great urban plans, instead we get Walmarts. Ironically, neighbors fought the density because of traffic, but instead are getting the mother of all traffic generators that will serve outbound commuters. Big boxes also tend to beget other big boxes, so all the happy talk about how Walmart will bring restaurants and high-quality development should be placed in your mental file marked “Humor.” At this point, it is worth noting that Walmart will bring retail to vacant lots and it’s better to get a fraction of the retail tax sent back from Tallahassee than none at all.
So, here is what SRiQ wants you to do.
2. Pass this article along to your friends on the North Trail and the Alta Vista neighborhood and ask them to provide comments on what we have to do to salvage good urban/neighborhood planning in these important places.
3. Answer the poll question in the comments section:
o Walmart will be a net negative in both locations
o Walmart will be a net positive in both locations
o Walmart will be net positive on the North Trail but net negative downtown
o Walmart will be net positive downtown, but net negative on the North Trail
The Mobility Plan mentioned above for the North Trail is coming to the city’s planning board on June 13 at 6 pm. SRiQ will look at what you need to know about mobility next week.