Florida Keys News
Sunday, March 31, 2013
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Big plans for White St. corner

A Key West businessman wants to turn the corner of White and Catherine streets into a showroom to rent mopeds and sell Honda motorcycles and other motorized recreation items, plus open a 15-seat restaurant.

But Victor Mills needs the Planning Board to approve two new shops and also waive city rules that require 25 parking spots at the corner because, he says, he can only build three off-street spots. Those three include one reserved for a handicapped driver.

"The impact caused by increased traffic will be minimal," according to Mills' application. "With respect to the property as a whole, the recreational business will take up less than 15 percent of 1206 White St."

Mills said he will plant royal palms to match those across the street, and has already installed hurricane-grade windows to help squelch any noise. In his application, Mills said he gave an eviction notice to the "lunchette" that been a part of the White Street property.

For almost 40 years, 1206 White St. was home to La Dichosa Bakery, which had 15 seats. But since it closed more than two years ago, Mills needs to revisit the city for a "conditional use" permit.

He filed his applications with the city Thursday at the Development Review Committee's regular meeting.

The Planning Board, which will have the final say, hasn't yet scheduled a hearing date.

The parking requirement apparently is meant for "open spaces" that were never developed.

Mills' new property once held an auto parts store, which burned down. "We haven't had any [open undeveloped space] in decades, not in Key West," said attorney Wayne LaRue Smith, representing Mills before the city. "That is if we were building from scratch, but we're not."

Mills, a native Key Wester, bought the property at 1200-1206 White St. for $650,000 last summer after selling his longtime Honda shop at 416 Southard St. He referred all questions to Smith for this story.

"They're not changing the footprint of the building at all," said Smith. "Their residential and commercial square footage hasn't changed."

Mills has 15 scooter rental licenses -- the city isn't issuing them anymore -- and he said most of the rentals will be delivered to customers. Any scooter rental business on the island must apply for permission, since no zoning exists allowing them anywhere.

Neighbors have already praised Mills for cleaning up a scruffy corner that was becoming a hangout for loiterers.

"The homeless drunks will have to find another block to party at," wrote Bryan Cantrell in a September letter of support to the city.

More than 30 neighbors support Mills' project, while about eight have "raised concerns," said Smith.

"While 1200 White St. is one of the largest structures in our area, it is in the running for one of the most disgusting," wrote Greg Sullivan and Michelle Maxwell, who live on Catherine St., in an Oct. 4 letter. "This building has been an utter eyesore in our neighborhood and in line with its unkempt faÃßade, it has attracted an unfortunate following of homeless people, vandals and general miscreants who see it as an invitation for mischief."

The couple thanked Mills for preliminary work they say already has improved the corner.

"To many Key Westers, White Street and the surrounding area is the locals' Duval Street," they wrote. "While it may not be a landmark destination, the White Street corridor is the backbone of our island life."

gfilosa@keysnews.com

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