ISLAMORADA -- Two delayed supermarket projects on Upper Matecumbe Key have taken on new looks in recent weeks.
Publix developers submitted a new site plan to the village on July 8 and Winn-Dixie developers submitted their new plan on June 20.
For the Winn-Dixie project, which has been delayed for some two years due to a variety of issues, including financial problems, the submission of a new site plan means that developers will have to once again go before the Village Council for approval.
Time, though, is running short. The proposed Mile Marker 81 market received 15,561 square feet of building rights from the council in May. But those rights will expire in December if the new builder, Win-Development LLC, doesn't obtain a building permit by then.
First, though, the plan has to be reviewed by the Planning Department and then survive that council vote.
"It's going to be tight," Senior Village Planner Kevin Bond said of the timeframe.
Bellaire Beach-based Win-Development took over the project in June, after lender Preferred Income Partners IV got clear title to the market site from would-be developer Net5FDA through a foreclosure, said Owen Ewing, a managing member for the new developer.
Their new site plan doesn't change the overall size of the proposed market, which is 29,000 square feet. What it does do is shift the store north on its property and move the truck loading zone from the south side of the building to the north side. Those changes are designed to allow Win-Development to move forward without purchasing the home of former Village Councilman Bob Johnson and without securing a cross-access agreement to the parking lot of the Galleria shopping plaza.
In the case of the Johnson house, the purchase had been needed under the old proposal because Net5 had planned to use a portion of the ex-councilman's yard for a required 20-foot vegetation buffer. By moving the building further north, along with the loading zone, the buffer can now be located entirely within the Winn-Dixie property.
As for the cross-access agreement, Win-Development will work instead with Morada Sands LLC, which owns the old Atlantic Grill property to the north of the market site. The cross-access will allow trucks to make their way to the new loading zone. A deal on the Galleria site was deemed impractical, Ewing said, since ownership of the property is currently being contested in a lawsuit.
"From an economic standpoint, it made more sense," he said of the new Winn-Dixie site plan.
In contrast to the Winn-Dixie group, Publix developers have moved their proposed market further south on its property.
The move would take some pressure off of the residential Russell Street to the south of the mile marker 82.5 site, which Boca Raton-based Equity Development Group had previously proposed as the lone entrance and exit for the 28,000-square-foot market.
That concept, however, met with substantial resistance from surrounding property owners, in part because Russell Street is the entrance to a neighborhood and in part because Island Community Church and the affiliated Island Christian School's elementary wing sit across Russell Street from the Publix property.
Equity had also proposed adding a lane to Russell Street to accommodate market traffic. The Village Council made it clear that it was not likely to support the extra lane at a meeting in April.
The new Publix proposal still would have a driveway off Russell Street. But there would be no third lane. In addition, customers and delivery trucks alike could utilize an entrance and exit off U.S. 1 on the north portion of the property.
However, said Bond, the proposed U.S. 1 entranceway could have difficulty receiving the approval of the Florida Department of Transportation because it would sit just 130 feet from the entrance to the adjacent Fish Bowl property, well below the FDOT requirement of 245 feet that is in place in case a turning lane is needed.
Bond said he has been pushing the Publix team, as well as the owners of the Fish Bowl site, to agree to a joint entrance along their property line.
The Fish Bowl is currently vacant, but the Miami Beach-based ownership team is working to bring a retail outlet there, partner Seth Gadinsky has told the Free Press. Gadinsky declined last week to say what type of retailer they have spoken with, but his Gadinsky Real Estate has worked frequently with Walgreens -- a company that has long sought an Islamorada location.
Gadinsky said that Equity Development's new site plan, with more of the parking on the Fish Bowl side of the building, makes a joint entrance more feasible.
"All of the parties, including the city, are trying to come to an agreement where everybody is happy and I believe we'll get there, but we're not there yet," he said.