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Lawsuit continues to delay Publix construction in Islamorada

Construction equipment demolishes one of six buildings on a mile marker 83 site where a proposed Publix supermarket is expected to be built.
Construction equipment demolishes one of six buildings on a mile marker 83 site where a proposed Publix supermarket is expected to be built.

The demolition of the site is complete and the property is fenced off, but there is no indication a proposed Publix supermarket in Islamorada is near a breaking-ground date.

An ongoing lawsuit filed in early 2014 has kept the Lakeland-based chain from building the store it wants to open at mile marker 83 on Upper Matecumbe Key.

The Islamorada Village Council, which approved the site plan for the proposed Publix last September, is scheduled to hear the plaintiffs' appeal of an amendment to the plan at its Sept. 10 regularly scheduled meeting. The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. at Village Hall at Founders Park, mile marker 87.

At the meeting, the plaintiffs -- the Bay Hammock Homeowners Association and a group called Keep Islamorada Peaceful Prosperous and Safe -- are expected to argue against the store's three planned loading docks.

But they also object to the entire store being built. They say it is too large for the village commercial zoning and that it is out of character with the rest of Islamorada businesses.

The site plan calls for a 34,062-square-foot store surrounded by 161 parking spaces.

Village Planning Director Cheryl Cioffari and her staff concluded that according to their interpretation of village code, the supermarket does belong there. The 4.6-acre footprint is home to six defunct businesses, so the land is already primed for a commercial business to occupy the space.

Equity Development Group, the project's developer, said the store would create 100 permanent year-round jobs and pump more than $24,000 into the village via taxes every year. Equity also said building the store would put up to 200 construction workers to work.

Opponents of the Publix placed a referendum on last November's ballot asking Islamorada voters to approve a law that would limit commercial development in the village to 10,000 square feet. The initiative failed.

Those against the referendum said limiting new construction to 10,000 square feet is too similar to the village's former ordinance prohibiting chain stores from opening in Islamorada.

A federal appeals court panel quashed that ordinance in 2008 because it found it discriminated against interstate commerce by favoring only local businesses.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said in its ruling that "Islamorada had a number of pre-existing 'formula retail' businesses" already and did not have any historic buildings or districts to qualify it as having any legitimate definitive "community character."

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