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Walmart rumors lead to heated moments at city meeting

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Public unrest about Walmart development rumors reached a boiling point at Monday’s Winter Springs City Commission meeting as city officials, facing a packed house of residents, tried to put the issue to bed.

The rumored project, which had not been applied for to the city but which was spoken of briefly by a developer during a public comment section at the July 11 City Commission meeting, was said to be targeted for an area at the northwest corner of the State Road 434 and 417 interchange already designated for use for a technology business corridor.

“There’s no Walmart,” City Manager Shawn Boyle said, explaining the city’s development review process to the audience. “There’s never been a Walmart. There’s no Walmart project.” Commissioners lamented the spread of rumors about a Walmart project on social media, including accusations that the city was hiding an alleged project and had already approved it.

Explaining the city’s legal definitions for the Greeneway Interchange District (GID), which spans along S.R. 434 just west of where it meets S.R. 417, City Attorney Anthony Garganese said the area is limited to specific targeted industries.

“In the GID there is no opportunity for a retail shopping center,” Garganese said. “Those types of uses are not target industries that the city desires for the Greeneway Interchange District.”

Winter Springs Planning and Zoning Board Chair Kok Wan Mah asked if there had been any applications to change the land use or zoning for the property in question that might allow the development to be put there.

“To answer his question, ‘have there been any applications – formal, informal or any other type that you can imagine for land use change’ and the answer is absolutely un-categorically no,” Boyle said. “There have not been any applications or pre-applications or any discussions about the land use change.”

Residents weigh in

After the volley of explanations for why no development other than the specific types in the land use plan would be built on the site in question, residents weighed in. Among them were residents Jesse Phillips and Ken Greenberg, who run the Winter Springs Community Association.

“I’m glad to hear that it seems like the idea is dead on arrival,” Phillips said. “That certainly is good information for us.”

Phillips said that about 2,000 residents had signed a petition against a Walmart being built in the area.

After Greenberg took to the podium, the subject changed to what he called “misinformation” by Mayor Kevin McCann.

“I’ve had it alluded to me, and to Jesse and to members of our association of which there’s over 2,000 of those, not even counting those that signed the petition, that we were stirring things up for political reasons, and that none of what we were saying had any basis,” Greenberg said. “That’s not true.”

While Greenberg was talking, laughter was heard in the audience which led to a loud verbal exchange between Greenberg and another speaker in the audience, at which point Greenberg referred to the other speaker as an “acid-tongued hatchet man” before McCann called for calm in the room.

After the altercation, other residents spoke in opposition to the idea of a Walmart development but lauded the city for its process to protect its land-development plan.

“Personally, I don’t want to see a Walmart,” resident Maurice Kaprow said. “And I know that the people who are sitting on this Commission today have strongly supported our zoning. And not only strongly supported it, but you are the people that have in fact enhanced the code and are making sure that our land use is up to date, has not been changed, and will be enforced.”

Development in the city 

After another resident said that it seemed as if the city had approved every development that had been applied for, based on 14 current projects in the development process in the city, Boyle clarified, “For every 14 of those projects that were approved, there were probably 200 that weren’t.”

“The only projects that get on that list are things that are zoned for the proposed land that they’re going to put the project on and that are things that are in our comprehensive plan,” he added. “So there are many, many, many more that have never seen the light of day.”

The earlier heated exchange was revisited later in the meeting when Deputy Mayor Kevin Cannon called out Phillips and Greenberg for rumors he said had been spread by the pair on social media.

“Mr. Phillips and Mr. Greenberg put out social media posts claiming that Commissioner Cannon, Commissioner Hale and Mayor McCann, coincidentally it just happened to be the three of us that are up for re-election, that we are trying to recruit this Walmart supercenter to come into Winter Springs. That is a bald-faced lie and a misrepresentation. And I will say it clearly and unequivocally. But you don’t just have to take my word for it. When this developer came before us in the last commission meeting on July 11, at the end, I asked him, ‘Mr. Stahl, did we ask you to bring this Walmart supercenter here?’ and he said ‘Well, no’ out of his own mouth. So this is one example of half-truths and spin, and I think you have a right to know that.”

The issue was put to rest for the duration of the meeting, but in his explanation for the process the city uses to vet projects and determine suitability of development, Boyle mentioned a list the city keeps of current projects and applications so that residents can monitor what the city’s up to.

“This is very up-to-date,” Boyle said “We keep this at the moment. We will update this as soon as an application comes in. So please, any time you want to check what’s going on in the city, you’ll find it in this report. The city’s committed to transparency.”

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