August 14, 2019

KEY LARGO — Residents voiced strong concerns about traffic congestion, accidents and noise to the developers of a proposed 7-Eleven gas station and workforce housing project at the former Largo Honda property during a community meeting last Friday.

James Saunders spoke on behalf of Bravo & Partners and Harold Kessler, owner of Reel Developers. The two businesses are jointly proposing the 3,750-square-foot convenience store, 12 gas pumps and eight two-bedroom workforce housing units at the bayside property just beyond the traffic light at mile marker 99.4.

“7-Eleven has come up with a new [site] design that pumps more traffic onto the site,” Saunders said. “It queues the cars onto the site without tying up traffic.”

Initially, Bravo & Partners proposed widening Snook’s Bayside Restaurant driveway to provide access to the site, but Snook’s declined.

The northernmost access point would be the main entrance with directional arrows pointing traffic one-way into the fuel pumps, store or housing. Vehicles would exit through the south access point which is 120 feet from the main entrance access point, according to Saunders.

The southern exit would remain as a two-way traffic pattern.

Fuel pumps would be located where the front of the existing building is, according to site renderings, with the store behind and housing toward the rear of the parcel.

Residents took turns saying the 7-Eleven would add too much traffic to an already heavily congested area where southbound traffic can back up for about a mile due to the traffic light even during light weekends.

The access drive to the proposed site is about 100 feet or less, which may cause southbound drivers to slow down again after the light and further back up traffic, speakers said.

Other speakers said Key Largo has enough gas stations and questioned the need for additional workforce housing, given the county’s plans to build such units at nearby Port Largo as well as housing availability at Playa Largo Ocean Residences and Keys Lake Villas.

Kessler said he was doing the Key Largo community a service by eliminating the urban blight and adding workforce housing on the bay.

Traffic consultant Karl Peterson submitted a traffic study to county planners that says 617 daily trips per one thousand square feet of nonresidential floor area and the eight affordable housing units will be generated by the development, far exceeding the maximum within the designated “Downtown Community Center.”

The limit is 150 trips generated per day for every 1,000 square feet of nonresidential floor area, as set by county code, and county Development Review Committee officials said the actual number of traffic trips per day could be higher than what the study says.

DRC staff concluded that 677 daily trips per one thousand square feet of nonresidential floor area would be generated, or a total of 2,539 daily trips.

Peterson said his analysis factors in a 3.5% growth rate in traffic, which would account for the planned workforce housing proposed less than a half mile away in Port Largo.

DRC staff has made 13 recommendations for the developer to come into compliance with county code, some of which have already been addressed, according to Saunders.

DRC staff has requested that all discrepancies be reconciled prior to a hearing before the Monroe County Planning Commission meeting, which is the next step for the project. That meeting has not yet been scheduled.

The Florida Department of Transportation is also evaluating the traffic patterns and will hold a public meeting. It will be making its review public soon, according to Saunders.

“If they have an issue, then the project may be aborted,” he said.

Other concerns included the possibility of noise generated by a 24-hour business, ground contamination and what income requirements would be set for people to qualify for housing.

Workforce housing mandates that residents must earn at least 70% of their income in Monroe County.

tjava@keysnews.com