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Rockland Key group revamps Wal-Mart plan

This is an early conception of a Wal-Mart store planned for Rockland Key near mile marker 9.
This is an early conception of a Wal-Mart store planned for Rockland Key near mile marker 9.

Backers of a proposed Wal-Mart shopping center on Rockland Key want to get the project moving again but have scaled back plans for it by half, says a Key West consultant.

“We’re ready to go,” Owen Trepanier of Trepanier and Associates said Tuesday. “We just want to build the shopping center. We’re tired of bickering.”

On March 20, the Monroe County Planning Department received an amended version of a draft development agreement that seeks permission to move forward with 175,000 square feet of commercial-space construction.

Original plans for the 33-acre site off mile marker 9 called for 335,000 square feet of commercial space, making it one of the largest shopping centers in the Florida Keys.

That concept was sharply downsized last November when developers said they wanted to drop a number of proposed retail spaces aside from the anchor store, a 135,000-square-foot Wal-Mart. “That’s based on refined market research by the economists,” Trepanier said Tuesday.

Along with the downsized retail space, developers indicated they wanted to build 400 affordable housing units on 10 adjacent acres. The latest update cuts the number of housing units to 300.

Zoning sought by the project developers for the large shopping center was approved by the Monroe County Commission in 2013. That overlay district eliminated residential development on the site. Zoning could be changed again but the process is complex and time-consuming.

“The 10 acres on the rear portion will be left undeveloped and at some point in the future, we will seek approval for employee housing,” Trepanier said.

County commissioners and planning staff previously urged the Rockland Key developers to create housing for its workers to be employed at the new center. The latest proposal offers to secure 40 employee-housing units, a number calculated by using Islamorada’s requirement for commercial construction to include workforce housing.

“Islamorada is the only jurisdiction in Monroe County that has a linkage between new commercial square footage and housing,” Trepanier said. “There’s absolutely no framework in the Monroe County code, so we looked around to see what other communities do. Islamorada is the only one.”

The center developers, a coalition of businesses working as Key West/SAV LLC., also agreed to put $3 per square foot of commercial space into an escrow account for future housing.

Other commercial space at the site is proposed to include a gas-pump facility, fast-food restaurant, and a 10,000-square-foot building that can house medical offices or other local businesses. A 200-seat community meeting room sought by county commissioners also remains in the plan, which faces several more approval steps before work begins.

“We have not had an opportunity to review the submission yet and cannot describe nor comment on what has been proposed,” said Mayte Santamaria, senior director of Monroe County Planning and Environmental Resources.

“Now it’s up to the Planning Department,” Trepanier said. “We’re hopeful and would love to started.”

Concerns on the center’s effect on U.S. 1 traffic and whether a large-scale housing development would create problems for the nearby Boca Chica Naval Air Station have yet to be fully answered.

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206

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