Wal-Mart has suffered another defeat, this time in Sarasota County, Florida, where County Commissioners used their discretionary police powers this week to declare a proposed superstore on Interstate 75 “too intense” for the area’s roads to handle. “I think it’s too intense for this area,” Commissioner Paul Mercier told the Herald-Tribune newspaper. Wal-Mart needed county approval to rezone 30 acres to build a 215,000 s.f. building. The newspaper described the Wal-Mart officials as “stunned” that their project was rejected. Last January, Wal-Mart lost another battle in neighborhing Manatee County, in response to protests from neighbors about increased traffic. In order to gain approval for the Sarasota store, Wal-Mart held meetings with neighbors, offering them enticements like water fountains and sound barriers to minimize disruption in the area. But these minor concessions were apparently not enough, and had nothing to do with the traffic problems that concerned the county. Wal-Mart also offered to contributed money to adding traffic lanes to the congested intersection in front of its proposed store. But, even with the traffic improvements, Commissioners said the Wal-Mart would create a traffic nightmare. One Commissioner suggested that instead of adding another major retail store, the county would be better off waiting for something that would produce less traffic, perhaps a corporate headquarters or an office complex. The parcel in question, by the way, is owned by The New York Times, which also owns the Herald-Tribune. The land was slated for the newspapers expansion, but those plans fell through.
The County had recently approved other big box stores, and were concerned that the Wal-Mart would simply overwhelm the area with traffic, even with additional lanes. The land they wanted was also not properly zoned. But this case illustrates how local officials can deny a project based on traffic issues alone. For more stories from this region, search Newsflash by “Florida.”