A rezoning denial that had been viewed as a major victory for Carrollwood residents who rallied to defeat plans for a Walmart Neighborhood Market has been appealed.
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court by Brightwork Acquisitions, the contract buyer of the 10.5 acres at the northwest corner of Dale Mabry and Floyd Road. The Hillsborough County Commission, which last month turned down the request that would have allowed the grocery, is the defendant.
A spokeswoman for the grass-roots group that battled the plan since learning of it in March, called the suit a "bullying tactic."
The 90-page lawsuit maintains the commission's 6-0 vote on Jan. 15 denying a "major modification" of the site's existing zoning was politically motivated, was not based on evidence or criteria, and countered recommendations for rezoning approval by the county's planning experts and a land-use hearing officer.
The commissioners rejected the evidence and favorable recommendations to improve their standing with constituents who opposed the Walmart plan, the lawsuit asserts.
The lawsuit quotes Commissioner Al Higginbotham's cautionary advice at the meeting: "… I'm just putting my concerns on the record right now — a vote of denial, we're going to end up in court, and it will not be in our hands. It will come back to us."
County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan said an appeal was expected. "Walmart has a long history of pursuing litigation, and this comes as no surprise," he said. "Our staff has been preparing for it."
Hagan, whose district includes Carrollwood, said that community does not routinely oppose development and is exceptionally unified about the Walmart plan. "I think the board made the right decision in standing up for our constituents who were quite vocal in their opposition."
"We're not surprised, but very disappointed," Leah Wooten said Thursday after learning of the appeal. She is among the organizers of 813CARe (Carrollwood Against Rezoning), a group whose efforts include petitions, fliers, yard signs and rush-hour picketing at the proposed site.
"It's a shame that this developer and these particular businesses don't care to listen to the county and the citizens as to what they want done in their neighborhoods, per existing zoning laws," said Wooten, president of the 27-member Cedar Hollow Homeowners Association. "They're choosing to be a bully, and this is a bully tactic, where they want to have their way at the expense of the neighborhoods they want to exploit."
The civil suit seeking injunctive relief, unspecified damages and attorney's fees was filed in federal court, it states, "to prevent violations of Brightwork's rights, privileges and immunities protected by the United States Constitution."