Backers of a huge shopping center planned for the Lower Keys apparently want to start over.
Instead of what would have been unincorporated Monroe County’s largest commercial center, “new partners” in a Rockland Key development anchored by a Walmart propose to downsize by almost half — but add 400 affordable-income apartments to replace the lost retail stores.
“The scope of the project will change from 335,000 [square feet] of commercial to about” 175,000 square feet, in addition to the 400 residential units, project consultant Owen Trepanier wrote to county planning staff on Nov. 23.
In a proposed revised development agreement sent to the county, a Walmart store of about 135,000 square feet would remain. The Oct. 14 proposed site plan also shows a fast-food outlet, a large gas station and a two-story medical building.
A 5,000-square-foot “community meeting” building sought by Monroe County Commission members also is in the outline for the 33-acre site near mile marker 9.
The proposed anchor store seems to largely resemble the Walmart complex in Florida City, although the main building’s exterior design could be altered to more closely resemble Keys architecture.
Missing from the center’s revised site plan is space for other stores that could have included retailers like Bed, Bath & Beyond and Old Navy, both cited by a lead developer in July 2015 as examples of national companies interested in being Rockland Key tenants.
“I was a little shocked, looking at that communication from Trepanier,” county Mayor George Neugent said Tuesday. “From what I know of this, I certainly do not interpret it as something that has a chance to fly. The zoning is all wrong; it makes no sense.”
In response to Trepanier’s Nov. 23 request for a meeting with the commercial center’s current team, Assistant County Administrator Christine Hurley declined.
“I’m reluctant to meet with your clients at this point since our policies would not permit 400 affordable units on this site,” wrote Hurley, who oversees county planning. “It appears to me that is what you are proposing. Is that correct?”
Hurley pointed out that the Rockland Key Commercial Retail Center Overlay District approved in mid-2013 by the Monroe County Commission and state managers of the Keys’ Area of Critical State Concern status “ELIMINATED all residential density from the property, adding the ability to do a large amount of commercial development not subject” to rules on commercial rate-of-growth development.
“We can’t even begin to process a development agreement until they go back and change a lot of things they’ve already done,” Hurley said Tuesday. Those complex items include amending the county’s comprehensive land-use plan and related zoning maps.
Officers at the U.S. Navy’s Key West air station, near the proposed development on Rockland Key, for years have cautioned Monroe County officials to discourage building homes on some Lower Keys areas because of jet noise from the military base.
“Continued development, especially residential development, near or adjacent to military facilities jeopardizes the military’s ability to meet and sustain current levels of mission readiness,” base commander Capt. J.R. Brown wrote in 2007. That could put the base in higher risk of closing.
A new traffic study funded by Rockland Key developers Key West/SAV indicates the project would need to add a stop light with added turn lanes on both sides of U.S. 1.
“The proposed redevelopment of the subject portion of Rockland Key is anticipated to generate 6,830 net new daily vehicle trips,” the report says in a summary.
Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206