There will not be a Wal-Mart superstore on 54th. Avenue S in St.Petersburg — at least not if the city’s Planning Commission has anything to say about it. Last week the Commission voted unanimously to reject the idea of rezoning land for a 222,230 s.f. Wal-Mart superstore. An overflow crowd of citizens against the project testified for more than 4 hours to block the store. Wal-Mart has 10 days to appeal the decision to the City Council, and on to Circuit Court if the Council denies the rezoning also. The City’s Planning Department had recommended against the superstore project (see 10/12/98 newsflash below) listing among their reasons an abundance of established commercial space, and inconsistency with the established single-family residential character of the surrounding area. The Baptist Church that owns the property Wal-Mart wants claimed the project would mean 400 jobs — repeating Wal-Mart’s figures as if they were gospel. Wal-Mart’s experts also had to dispute a city traffic study which showed the store would have a negative impact on the level of service in the area. Wal-Mart even presented an economist from Tampa, who said a Wal-Mart survey showed that almost 64% of the households interviewed would shop at a Wal-Mart, and that $57 million in sales going elsewhere would be returned to the area. Local residents called such economic claims “phony baloney”. One resident compared the store’s impact on her home to that of a hurricane. “I am going to be in a direct hit,” she told officials. “The hurrican turns out to be a supercenter.” The Sierra Club also spoke against the plan, and suggested that Wal-Mart locate its store in the Central Plaza on two floors. “Let’s think outside the box,” said Beth Connor of the Sierra Club.
Wal-Mart may have to think outside of the box in St.Petersburg, because it appears like they won’t have a big box at all. Note that the grounds from rezoning here included incompatibility with the comprehensive plan and with the residential neighborhood, traffic impact, and the already existing abundance of commercial space. These are common reasons for denying a superstore rezoning.