Study financed by Wal-Mart: 335,000-square-foot shopping center won't have 'adverse' effect on traffic

This shows how the shopping center might look.
This shows how the shopping center might look.

Even though it will contain parking space for 1,258 autos, don't worry about increased traffic from a 335,000-square-foot shopping center on Rockland Key, says a study contained in the newest development plan.

A 219-page revised development agreement for the Wal-Mart-led center was submitted Friday to Assistant Monroe County Planning Director Mayte Santamaria. The center would be at mile marker 9 bayside.

Key West land-use consultant Owen Trepanier, who represents developer Rockland Investment Corp., submitted the plan. It includes what is called a Level III traffic study done by Tamarac-based KBP Consulting Inc.

According to the study's summary, "the proposed development will not have an adverse impact on the operating characteristics of US 1/Overseas Highway on Rockland Key."

The study, which lists the average delay in seconds per vehicle at peak hours around the development, comes to that conclusion by stating that traffic lights, including the one on Big Pine Key, could be optimized to stay green longer. It also suggests customers use "alternative modes of transportation" to get there by way of the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail and mass transit.

Trepanier said last month he is working with the Florida Department of Transportation on a traffic light for the shopping center, which is expected to attract several other tenants and need about 600 workers.

DOT permit coordinator Michelle Lee said Monday she hasn't seen an application for a traffic light. Among the requirements is a certain volume of vehicular or pedestrian traffic.

"The district traffic operations engineer reviews, approves, and establishes all traffic regulations, which include traffic signals," DOT spokeswoman Ivette Ruiz-Paz said.

County officials are expected to review the latest plans, traffic study and all, in detail this week. County Mayor Danny Kolhage met with Trepanier and a Wal-Mart spokesperson in January. He said he couldn't comment specifically on the study without seeing it first.

"My only comment is that I know the traffic issue is one of their hurdles," Kolhage said Tuesday. "They're going to have to overcome that. I don't have any particular special feeling about it."

County Commissioner George Neugent, whose district includes Rockland Key, had similar feelings, but noted that a longer green light on U.S. 1 is a problem for Big Pine Key and other areas. There are also lights on Summerland Key and Big Coppitt Key.

"I'd have to look at some of the criteria that was used and assumptions that were made," Neugent said.

Besides traffic, affordable and workforce housing is an issue. But the land is zoned for industrial despite space for 200 units.

Wal-Mart is already a confirmed tenant for the 33-acre shopping center and the developer, David Garfunkel of Savannah, Ga., has had interest from stores including Old Navy and Famous Footwear.

Wal-Mart spokesman Glen Wilkins spoke at a Key West Chamber of Commerce luncheon July 22 and touted the store as a 135,000-square-foot Supercenter similar to the company's closest Keys store in Florida City. It's expected to include a vision center, garden center and fast-food option.

According to the latest development plan, Wal-Mart itself will have about 205 workers. The plan submitted to the county calls for completion in 2018. Trepanier said the county has to vet the study with its own engineers.