Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Thursday, January 17, 2013
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County mulls mall traffic
Rockland box-store issues are discussed

Monroe County commissioners want more information on possible traffic congestion on U.S. 1 and other issues before potentially approving a strip mall on Rockland Key.

The County Commission held the first of two public hearings Wednesday on creating a new "overlay district" for a 33-acre parcel on Rockland Key that would change the zoning from industrial to commercial, to allow a development group to build there.

The Savannah, Ga.-based development group A.J. C. Garfunkel is working with property owners William Kemp and Steve Henson on the project. They want to replace the aging gravel pits, an adult bookstore and a tow yard on Rockland Key with a large shopping complex.

The developers have talked with executives from such notable chain stores as Target, Old Navy, Toys R Us and Bed, Bath and Beyond.

The Rockland Key shopping center would generate $1.3 million in local sales tax revenue, $1 million in county impact fees and $100,000 in county building permit fees, said private planner Owen Trepanier, who represents the developers.

The developers conducted a study and found that 11 percent of county residents travel to the "mainland" each month to shop, Trepanier said.

"This will provide our own people with goods and services they need and also provide the county with a long-term revenue stream," he said.

To make the project more palatable to the local community, developers have also agreed to build a 200-seat community center with a kitchen and bathrooms, bike paths and bus stops, Trepanier said. They would also build a sheriff's substation and 10,000 feet of space to lease for businesses such as hair salons, coffee shops and a fitness center, Trepanier added.

The issue of possible traffic congestion on U.S. 1, though, remained unresolved Wednesday.

Commissioners asked the developers and county staff about a traffic plan, but no answers were proffered. Commissioners speculated traffic could back up for miles in each direction on the Keys main roadway.

"This is still a huge unanswered question," Commissioner Heather Carruthers said.

Commissioners also questioned why the county wouldn't make all of Rockland Key an overlay district, as other property owners have proposed different business ventures.

Rockland Key property owner Michael Halpern argued the county should postpone approving the overlay district for a strip mall until it can do the same for the whole key, creating consistent rules for all of Rockland.

He also questioned whether the strip mall would consume all the commercial square footage allocated for the small key.

"Zoning in isolation results in bad planning," Halpern said.

The commission will discuss and possibly vote on the overlay district when it meets next month in Marathon.

Also on Wednesday:

• The commission agreed to give $5,000 to help fund an air show featuring the Blue Angels at Boca Chica Air Field. The money will come from the county's airport fund. The Navy's air show will be on March 23 and 24.

• The county also agreed to fund the construction of a bronze bust of Domingo Rosillo, to be placed at Key West International Airport. Rosillo piloted the first flight between Key West and Cuba.

tohara@keysnews.com

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