Florida Keys News
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
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Village may quell big-box trend

ISLAMORADA -- Councilman Mike Forster will lead a discussion about the possibility of temporarily shutting off new commercial development applications within the village when the council convenes Thursday, Jan. 10.

Making such a move, he said, could allow the village to put new regulations in place before more big-box chains target Islamorada.

The potential application freeze, known in government lingo as a declaration of zoning-in-progress, wouldn't affect projects that are already in the formal planning review process, including the proposed Publix and Winn-Dixie projects on Upper Matecumbe Key.

In addition to the two grocers seeking to build in the village, Forster said he is anticipating that Walgreens will seek to move into the former Fish Bowl site, immediately north of Publix's planned mile marker 83.2 location. The Fish Bowl property is partially owned by Miami Beach-based Seth Gadinsky, who has developed approximately two dozen other Walgreens.

Forster said he also expects that Winn-Dixie developer Win Development will bring a chain store into the Iguana Club property, on which it has a purchase contract, immediately north of its proposed mile marker 81 market site.

"It's just a discussion that we can now halt this now that we have 80,000 square feet of new retail in a 5-mile area," Forster said, ballparking the size of the two proposed markets combined with potential developments at the next-door properties.

The discussion about a temporary halt on development applications comes a month after the Village Council approved the 28,000 square-foot Publix despite strong objections from residents of the surrounding neighborhood. As they took the vote, some council members said they didn't support the project, but that they had no choice but to approve it under existing village code.

The village revised its code in 2010 in the aftermath of a court decision that struck down a law that forbade new chain stores from moving into town. The existing rules were designed instead with the goal of forcing chain stores to be aesthetically appealing.

Any formal decision to halt new development applications likely wouldn't come on Thursday. If the council supports the concept, it would have to impose the stay by resolution, but such a resolution was not part of the pre-meeting agenda packet.

The zoning-in-progress would be a temporary measure while new land development rules are written. Forster said one idea he wants to explore is a prohibition of the conjoining of properties. That would prevent many potential future large projects. For example, the Publix site consists of five properties that are to be conjoined.

Also this week, the council will vote on a variance that would allow for the Islander Resort to build a 2,200-square-foot sewer pump station just 15 feet from the edge of the Old Highway. Lacking a variance, the pump station would have to sit 25 feet from the roadway. The village will make use of the pump station in the $115 million central sewer system it is constructing.

The village's planning department has recommended approval of the variance, but it has also suggested that the council require the installation of tree buffers that would block views of the pump station from the old road and Carroll Street, which also abuts the pump station site.

rsilk@keysnews.com

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