Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
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Inventory to precede chain store action

ISLAMORADA -- The village will undertake a parcel-by-parcel inventory of Islamorada's commercial properties as it contemplates measures to prevent a further influx of large chain stores into town.

"I don't like what's happening, I hate it," Councilman Dave Purdo said at the Jan. 9 Village Council meeting.

The move, which the council is making in the aftermath of its December approval of a 28,000-square-foot Upper Matecumbe Key Publix, could be just the first step in a push back against chain stores.

The main objective of the data gathering will be to determine how many aggregations of adjacent parcels could be vulnerable to be scooped up by one owner with the intent of building a large retail outlet.

The Village Council will hold a workshop on Feb. 26 to discuss the findings of the inventory and determine its next move.

Village Attorney Roget Bryan told the council it might find that nothing needs to be done. Afterall, he said, Publix had to work long and hard to get its mile marker 83.2 project together.

"Notwithstanding it passed, it took 10 years and nine site plans," he said.

Winn-Dixie, too, has tried for several years to get a market built in the village but is still working toward a final site plan approval.

Nevertheless, council members expressed a desire last week to at least explore ways to make things even harder on potential chain stores.

The main proposal put forward came from Councilman Mike Forster. Ahead of the meeting he had toyed with the idea of calling for a temporary block on new commercial development applications in order to give time for new regulations to be written.

On the dais, however, Forster reined that idea in. The application freeze, he said, should only be for projects that would need to conjoin properties.

The Publix store, for example, is to be built on five properties that the market is conjoining. In prohibiting unifying titles on commercial properties, the goal would be to make the types of large stores that chain stores typically build more difficult to piece together.

"I want to maybe slow the train on the proliferation of high-density projects without getting legally smashed," Forster said.

Indeed, if the village does try to make things harder on chain stores, it will have to tread carefully. A village ordinance that prohibited them outright was struck down by the courts in 2007. The village, U.S. District Court Judge James Lawrence King ruled at that time, "has not demonstrated that it has any small-town community to preserve." Andy Tobin, attorney for the Upper Matecumbe Publix developer, cited that ruling during Publix's successful site plan hearing before the council last month.

Legal concerns aside, some council members cautioned last week that there could be negative consequences to a prohibition on conjoining properties. Such a move, said Councilwoman Deb Gillis, could prevent desirable projects from getting the go-ahead. Mayor Ted Blackburn pointed out that in turning five properties into one, Publix also turned five turn-offs from the Overseas Highway into one -- a positive for traffic flow.

Ultimately, said Village Manager Ed Koconis, the best way to put a dent on new chain stores might be to set a firm maximum building size villagewide.

In other action last week, the council:

• Approved a variance allowing for the Islander Resort to build a 2,200-square-foot sewer pump 15 feet from the edge of the Old Highway. Lacking a variance, the pump station would have to be 25 feet from the roadway. The village will make use of the pump station in the $115 million central sewer system it is constructing.

• Passed the final reading of an ordinance that increases the total number of commercial square feet the town can allocate each year. A total of 15,000 square feet can now be doled out annually, up from 6,692 square feet.

• Gave final passage to an ordinance that allows lodging units to have two full bathrooms. Previously a unit could have no more than 1 ¬½ baths. Hoteliers say that allowing two baths will make multi-bedroom suites more desirable.

rsilk@keysnews.com

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