ISLAMORADA -- The slow-motion race between developers to build Islamorada's first chain grocery store is expected to take another step this week with a Village Council vote on a Publix site plan.
The village's planning department has recommended that the council approve the proposed mile marker 82.5, bayside, market when it convenes Thursday, Dec. 12, Assistant Director of Planning Cheryl Cioffari said.
But the department also recommends that the approval should be dependent upon Boca Raton-based property owner Equity Development Group securing a cross-access agreement with the owners of the vacant Fish Bowl property, to the market site's north.
The newest site plan for the proposed 28,000-square-foot market is already drawn as if the cross-access agreement were complete. Key to the plan is that the Publix and Fish Bowl properties would share a common entrance. That scenario resolves two problems that Equity has encountered as it has tried to get the market project moving.
First, it eliminates the need to route vehicles to the market through Russell Street, on the south side of the Publix property. Second, the common entrance would keep Equity from running afoul of Florida Department of Transportation regulations.
The original Publix site plan used Russell Street as the lone entrance and exit. But that proposal drew immediate resistance from surrounding homeowners as well as from Island Community Church, which sits immediately across Russell Street from the Publix site. Council members in April made it clear that plan had little chance of winning approval.
A revised site plan the company put forth in July would have reduced, but not eliminated, the load on Russell Street. But the proposed Overseas Highway entrance sat only 130 feet beyond the existing Fish Bowl entrance, well below the 245 feet that FDOT requires.
The latest plan has at least quieted opposition from Island Community Church. In a phone message last week, Pastor Tony Hammon said the church would stay neutral on Thursday because opinion among the congregates is split.
Hammon noted that he still has some concerns but praised the changes Equity Development has made.
"They have done a great job of meeting the requests that we have as far as taking Russell Street out of the loop," he said.
Neighboring property owners are expected to take a less favorable view, however. A group of them, concerned about traffic that the market could generate, have retained Miami attorney Tucker Gibbs, said Chris Calderwood, a resident.
If the Village Council does approve the site plan, Equity Development would next have to go before the board in February to secure the additional 2,800 square feet of building rights it needs before getting a building permit for the market.
That matter is potentially complicated, however. Two other commercial property owners have also applied for square footage allocations, Cioffari said. Between the three, they are seeking 6,975 square feet of building rights. But under current regulations, the village only has 6,901 square feet to allocate next year. Therefore, barring a change in one of the plans or in the rules, the property that scores the lowest in the village's allocation point system will have to wait.
Publix's site plan review this week comes a month before Bellaire Beach-based Win Development is scheduled to go before the council in search of approval of a new mile marker 81 Winn-Dixie site plan. Winn-Dixie does have a leg up on Publix in one regard, however. Win Development has already secured the building allocation for its 22,000-square-foot grocery story.
The two grocery stores have sought an Islamorada site since the courts overturned the village's ban on new chain stores in 2008.