Florida Keys News
Thursday, May 31, 2012
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County rejects big-box store plan

The Monroe County Planning Commission on Wednesday rejected a plan to bring a national chain big-box store and a shopping center to Rockland Key.

Rockland Investment Corp. had asked the county to change its land use rules to allow more retail commercial development on all industrially zoned properties from Summerland Key to Stock Island. The group also wanted an exemption to state Rate of Growth of Ordinance (ROGO) rules, which limit the amount of commercial development.

The request came so the group could sell several pieces of property on Rockland Key to a developer who would turn the land into a shopping center or commercial business center. The land currently houses an adult bookstore, gardening center and tow yard.

County planning staff recommended rejection of the plan. Both staff and the commission wanted more information on traffic, sewer and trash impacts on Rockland Key from development of a retail shopping center. They wanted information on specifics. They also said that exempting such projects from ROGO rules would be inconsistent with the county's Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

Commercial uses are "not consistent with the purpose of the industrial district," said Joe Haberman, a county planner. "We believe there are some fundamental reasons not to approve it. The data they provided is not enough to approve it."

Owen Trepanier, a private planner representing Rockland Investment Corp., argued that the box store and shopping center were needed. Rockland Investment Corp. hired the Key West-based public relations firm The Market Share to conduct a study. The group interviewed 1,300 Lower Keys residents and 80 percent of them "wanted larger scale shopping within a half-hour," Trepanier said.

"There is a dearth in the ability to shop," Trepanier said. "We're not doing this for tourists. We're not doing this for snowbirds. We are doing this for the residents of the Lower Keys." Trepanier related his own story of having to travel to Miami to purchase a brand new baby crib, which was required to be a foster parent.

Rockland Investment Corp. has a "potential buyer" for a series of properties on Rockland Key, but "he" wants to make sure he can develop the property into a box store and retail outlet before buying the land, Trepanier said.

Trepanier could not disclose more details of the project, as they are not known yet, he said. He wanted to focus on changing the land use rules first.

Geiger Key resident Don Riggs, speaking on behalf of the Tamarac Park Property Owners Association, voiced support for a box store and commercial complex on Rockland Key.

He called on the developers to also place a satellite library facility, community center, bus stop and doctors' offices on the property. He argued that the current industrial sites on the property are no longer used and have become unsightly.

Commissioner Denise Werling agreed that the Rockland Key property is "extremely appropriate" for a box store and other retail stores. She referenced the closing of Fast Buck Freddie's and other stores, saying "there are fewer and fewer options."

However, commissioners said there are still too many questions that needed to be answered before they could approve changing land use rules to allow a chain store there.

The Planning Commission only makes recommendations. Trepanier plans to bring the proposal to the County Commission, which has the ultimate say in the matter.

"We will probably tweak a little bit," Trepanier said.

Another group of Rockland Key property owners, Rockland Operations LLC, filed a request last week to change the land use designation on Rockland Key from industrial to mixed-use commercial, which would allow for more retail businesses. County planning staff has yet to fully review the request. Trepanier is also representing that group.

tohara@keysnews.com

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