Break out the Joni Mitchell albums.
A Whole Foods re-zoning proposal to replace forested wetlands with a parking lot has been approved by Sarasota County, Florida commissioners, the Herald-Tribune reports. The grocery chain that champions “environmental stewardship” can now move forward with plans for a new 40,000-square-foot store in a shopping center that will also include a WaWa convenience store, a gas station, and other businesses. This is Whole Foods’ second location in Sarasota.
Staff members from the county’s Planning and Development Services Department objected to the re-zoning, which removed requirements to preserve the wetlands. The staffers say that the habitat was “rare and unique and important.” At the public hearing, according to the Herald-Tribune, opposition also came from several local residents, including Geraldine Swormstedt, a Sierra Club member. “It seems like a small area, but this is death by a thousand stabs,” Swormstedt told the Herald-Tribune. Attorney Dan Lobeck told the paper he worried the decision set a bad precedent.
Some of the area has been protected since at least 1997. To offset the loss, Whole Foods’ developer, Atlanta-based SJ Collins Enterprises, is buying 41 acres of similarly protected land in the Manatee River Basin, about 30 miles away, and donating it to the public. The plan has the support of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
“Whole Foods Market is very sensitive to environmental sustainability, and one of our core values as a business is to practice and advance environmental stewardship,” a Whole Foods spokesperson told Quartz. “While we are not the site developer… [t]he developer has also gone above and beyond what is required by purchasing a large tract of pristine wetlands within the watershed and donating it back to the public to ensure it is preserved for generations of Sarasotans.”
The re-zoning proposal passed by a vote of 4-1, with Commissioner Charles Hines casting the vote against it. “There is testimony in the record that says it’s a functioning wetland,” Hines told the Herald-Tribune. “It still has value. It still has use.