Friday, April 20, 2018
Opinion

Daniel Ruth: Carrollwood, celebrate Walmart triumph while you can

This might well be the real estate development equivalent of Barney Fife landing a lucky punch that puts Mike Tyson flat on his keister. But alas, the afterglow of satisfaction will only tend to be fleeting.

For all the grass roots Carrollwood activists who organized and stood up in opposition to Walmart, the world's largest retailer, in its quest to build a mega-mega-mega-super-super-super store along N Dale Mabry Highway, hey, way to go.

You prevailed. You persuaded a normally developer-compliant Hillsborough County Commission to reject Walmart's rezoning application to construct its monster store on what is now about 10.4 lousy, stinking acres of one of the last unpaved, undeveloped areas along Dale Mabry. How nice for you.

And you should also know this: Pop the champagne while you can because eventually you are going to lose. Walmart is like that, you know. Absolutely no sense of humor — especially among its lawyers.

We all probably do this. We awaken every morning and think to ourselves: "You know, I wish there were more Walmarts on every corner."

You have to believe Walmart has channeled into your desires. How else to explain why the international corporation would want to build a 41,080-square-foot store at Dale Mabry and Floyd Road when there already is a giant Walmart about a mile south at Waters Avenue and another bajillion-square-foot Walmart a mile or so farther north on Dale Mabry in Northdale?

This would seem to make about as much sense as having rows of McDonald's franchises next to each other. But then again, Walmart didn't get to be Walmart by being managed by a bunch of idiots.

To be sure, the commission's 6-0 vote (Commissioner Les Miller was absent) to deny Walmart's rezoning application was surprising on a couple of levels.

The Hillsborough County Commission has generally rolled over to appease developer interests like a bichon frise begging for a Snausage.

As well, the county's staff planners had determined the company's zoning modifications complied with growth rules, and a hearing officer had recommended approval of the application.

But commissioners are still politicians. Carrollwood residents had risen in protest, submitting numerous petitions and showing up at commission meetings to vent their vocal opposition. It was very sweet, in a democracy kind of way.

Commissioners are supposed to vote on stuff like Walmart rezoning requests purely on the objective merits of the matter without regard to public sentiment. On that point, Walmart's application should have been dispassionately approved.

But no pol with a functioning brain stem wants to rile up the public if he can possibly avoid it. And so, as Commissioner Al Higginbotham candidly admitted, the board opted to side with the pitchforks over the pinstripes.

The nay Walmart vote was actually a thing of complicit beauty. The commissioners can have it both ways. By voting to deny the rezoning, they come off as champions of the little guy battling against a corporate meanie.

But they also had to know that their decision in all probability will be reversed by the courts and yet another Walmart will rise again.

So to all you Carrollwoodians, enjoy the bubbly before it goes flatter than that Dale Mabry green space.

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