Florida Keys News
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Developers agree to scale back strip mall
County: Concessions 'step in right direction' for MM 9

The developers of a proposed strip mall on Rockland Key have agreed to reduce the overall size of the project, but have not scaled back the size of the individual buildings.

The developers are willing to reduce the shopping center from roughly 600,000 square feet to 350,000 square feet, according to the developer's planner Owen Trepanier. County planning staff requested that the project not exceed 300,000 square feet.

The developers maintain they need to keep the size of the individual buildings to 175,000 square feet, but would limit the individual size of a store to 140,000 square feet. The developers want to be able have one large anchor store abutted by two smaller stores, Trepanier said.

County planning staff argue the individual buildings should be limited to 125,000 square feet.

Despite not agreeing with all the county's requests, county planner Joe Haberman called the proposal "a step in the right direction."

"They have provided us with written architectural guidelines that deal with mass," Haberman said. "We just don't want to see one big box."

Rockland Key landowners William Kemp and Steve Henson are working with Georgia-based development group A.J. C. Garfunkel to bring a shopping center to Mile Marker 9.

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

The landowners are requesting a "Commercial Retail Center Overlay District" for 33 acres on Rockland Key, which is currently home to an adult video store, tow yard and gravel pits.

Rockland Key's current zoning is industrial, with strict limits on how much commercial retail activity can occur there. The overlay district would permit more commercial businesses.

To make the changes more palatable for the community, the developers agreed to build bike and pedestrian paths connecting to the Overseas Heritage Trail and a 200-seat meeting center, which they would lease to the county for a $1 a year. They have also agreed to rent spaces to small "neighborhood-oriented" businesses, Trepanier said.

Attorney Michael Halpern, who also owns property on Rockland Key, wants the county to approve the overlay zoning for not just this individual request, but for all of Rockland Key.

"If you do it (the overlay process) property by property, you get a mishmash plan," Halpern said. "A plan for all of Rockland Key would have a better result."

If the county had initiated the overlay district process, it would have most likely dealt with Rockland Key as a whole, Haberman said. But Henson and Kemp filed an application with the county and they are entitled to "due process," he said.

However, Trepanier is in discussions with the other Rockland Key land owners in order to come up with rules that would ultimately benefit all, he said.

"We think collaborative development for Rockland Key is in everybody's best interest," Trepanier said.

The County Commission will vote on the overlay district when it meets April 17 in Key West. If approved, the proposal will be sent for final approval to the state Department of Economic Opportunity, which oversees development in the Florida Keys.

tohara@keysnews.com

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