Whole Foods one step closer to developing on protected wetlands

whole foods rendering
Posted at 11:42 PM, Dec 18, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-18 23:42:00-05

SARASOTA, Fla. -- When Mike Griffin moved into his home along University Parkway in 1994, the only lights at night were from him and his neighbors.

"There was only woods to the North," says Griffin. "Behind me there was 30 head of cattle."

Over 20 years later, developers could soon pave over the last untouched parcel near his home.

The county planning commission unanimously approved a rezoning petition Thursday to allow Georgia-based SJ Collins to build a Whole Foods shopping center and Wawa on 4.49 acres of previously protected wetlands.

In exchange, SJ Collins will purchase wetlands to be secured in Manatee County's Rye Preserve a few miles away.

Andy Mele, the Sarasota representative of environmental non-profit Sierra Club, says wetland mitigation is not that simple.

"It's like buying a time share in a condo; you're not adding anything to the mix," says Mele. "You're going to lose the wetland underneath the Whole Foods, and there's not going to be anything new to replace it."

The county's Comprehensive Plan supposedly prohibits this type of project according to their review of the petition.

The same report cites a similar petition rejected by the board in 1999, as vice-chair Jack Bispham mentioned before casting his vote.

"I thought of this project earlier today and I said there's no way this can fly; It's going to be as stinky as it was 15 years ago," said Bispham. "But I think some wording changes in our comp plan has allowed this to occur, and I will be voting in favor of it."

Board chair John Ask says based on the information presented, the parcel had been degraded by surrounding development anyways.

Again, Mele doesn't understand the reasoning.

"Yeah it's been degraded, but who degraded it? It's like blaming the victim," he says.

As for Griffin, he asks the county to at least protect his daily commute:

"I certainly hope they take into consideration all the traffic that they're going to create."

Sarasota County commissioners will cast the deciding vote in January.