Wal-Mart’s efforts to rezone land to build a 210,000 s.f. superstore and three other commercial buildings in Lake Forest, Florida were dashed on January 11th. when the Seminole County Commissioner’s voted 5-0 to reject the store. The vote came at the end of a three and a half hour meeting, and was met by applause from the more than 300 area residents from 6 major neighborhoods who packed the meeting room. According to the Orlando Sentinel, County Planners recommended to the Commissioners that a store the size of 5 football fields was too intense to be located near a residential area. The proposed supercenter would have been only 500 feet from one home in the Lake Forest neighborhood. “It’s just incompatible with the neighborhood,” said resident Gene McKay. Other neighbors raised concerns about traffic, noise and lights, and the “never closed” operation so close to single-family homes. The developer argued that the 32 acre site was located across the road from a large car dealership, and a second car dealer is planned nearby. But County planners insisted that the 5 acre building was too large to be placed between a shopping mall and residential homes. Planners testified that the land should be zoned for business that served nearby communities, and be no more than 75,000 s.f. in size. County Commissioner Daryl McLain, who represents the Lake Forest area, let it be known that he felt the site was “questionable for that size facility”. McLain said he would prefer to see a project with office buildings, retail space, apartments and hotels. During the hearing, Lake Forest residents said the project would have a negative economic impact on stores in the Seminole Town Center Mall, increase crime, and pollution.
The motto of Seminole County is: Florida’s Natural Choice. “Is it the natural choice of insensitive, money-hungry developers,” asked resident Gene McKay, “or the natural choice of residents seeking something better than continued urban sprawl?” The County’s decision made it clear that in Seminole County, Wal-Mart is NOT the “natural choice”. Lake Forest once again makes it clear that public officials are under no mandate or requirement to change their zoning to suit the market share needs of a large retailer. Wal-Mart can read a zoning map as well as the next developer. The land in Lake Forest was not properly zoned, and another community has slam-dunked Wal-Mart! The next step for Lake Forest is to take up the Planner’s suggestion that the land be zoned for “neighborhood serving” business, with a cap on the size of buildings. If that isn’t done, another big box will repeat the scenario all over again.