Unhappy residents have forced Wal-Mart to put its plans for a superstore in Tallahassee, Florida in neutral. The proposal, located on the site of an empty Sam’s club on North Monroe Street, was put on hold three days ago when Wal-Mart told Tallahassee-Leon County officials the company wanted to meet with area residents. Wal-Mart began on this site two years ago with a 200,000 s.f. supercenter. The project was severely criticized by the Friends of Lake Jackson, and Wal-Mart withdrew the plan. Now they are back with a proposal 62% of the original size — but the 123,610 s.f. plan is still larger than 2.5 football fields, and residents still feel the proposal will hurt water quality and wildlife living in ravines east of the site. The site is only 1 mile from Lake Jackson. Wal-Mart told the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper that the smaller store will preserve the ravines, and control stormwater runoff, but local opponents say the store is still much too large. Wal-Mart is asking the Board of Adjustment and Appeals for a waiver of county zoning requirements as a pre-existing development. The “lake protection” zoning permits
commercial uses only of up to 20,000 square feet per building or 40,000 square feet per site. The vacant Sam’s Club building, which was 110,000 s.f. was shut down two years ago when Wal-Mart decided to move to another part of Tallahassee. The Sam’s Club was built before the “lake protection” district was created. Wal-Mart is also proposing to buy the land occupied by 6 local businesses, and tear them down to make way for three stormwater treatment ponds. “What they are proposing is a lot better than what they proposed in the past,” one opponent told the Democrat. “From our perspective, it doesn’t belong here.” In addition to seeking the lake protection waiver, Wal-Mart also has to have its site plan reviewed by the Leon County Commission.
The Tallahassee-Leon County Board of Adjustment and Appeals is under no obligation to allow Wal-Mart a waiver to exceed the lake protection zone building size limits. The fact that the Sam’s Club was a pre-existing, non-conforming use, does not mean that the construction of a new Wal-Mart store on that site needs to be grandfathered. The fact is, the lake protection district limits were designed to make buildings smaller, not larger. Wal-Mart shut down its Sam’s Club two years ago, and now they want to tear it down and build a bigger building on the site. But twenty years after the Sam’s Club was built, the land is now under a zoning ordinance that has been in place 16 years to protect Lake Jackson. The easy answer for county officials is to just say no, and suggest to developers that they learn to live with the zoning rules just like every other commercial operation does. For local contacts at the Friends of Jackson Lake, contact [email protected]