On Friday April 28, the Monroe County Planning Commission met at the County Government Center in Key Largo. On the agenda - a request to allow a 70,000 sq ft non-residential structure at MM91.5 in Tavernier. Current County zoning for the property would limit the building size to a maximum of 10,000 sq ft. The plan presented to the County is to allow the construction of a large Publix grocery store including liquor sales. A required affordable housing component would add 86 affordable housing units as phase 2 of the project.
This is the third time the public has had an opportunity to voice concerns.
The Planning Commission Chairman, Joe Scarpelli, congratulated the large crowd of local residents: “This is what Democracy is all about.”
The public spoke of quality of life in the historic Tavernier district, traffic, potable water issues, affordable housing as a second phase instead of first phase, and whether the grocery store is actually needed.
Attorney Bart Smith represented the applicant. He was asked by Emily Schemper, Senior Director of Planning and Environmental Resources for Monroe County, where they would get the affordable housing allocations. Smith’s answer: Islamorada is willing to provide them.
Bart Smith was paid $319,000, by Islamorada taxpayers, to defend the Village’s right to 300 affordable housing allocations. He lost in court. Now the Florida Legislature has voted to change the evacuation standards to allow the Florida Keys to add 1300 additional dwellings. This would include the Village’s 300 allocations. But there has been no decision by the Village Council regarding the use of the allocations.
Commissioner George Neugent of Marathon got some laughs when he asserted there is no traffic problem in the Keys. He claims it now takes him 1 hour and 15 minutes to get to the County building in Key Largo from Marathon. He said it took him the same time to make that trip 20 years ago.
Commissioner David Ritz, former Board member of FKAA, stated his assurances for those concerned about the FKAA pipeline problems and water shortages. He insisted that South Florida has an abundance of potable water.
In the end, the Planning Commission voted 3-2 to recommend to the County Commission to follow the staff recommendation and deny the applicant’s request. The two representatives for Key Largo, Tavernier, and Islamorada (Ritz and Neugent) voted to recommend approval, contrary to staff recommendation.
Four residents of Islamorada: Phyllis Mitchell, Tom Raffanello, Joan Scholz and Sue Miller made comments. They acknowledged the traffic, water, and evacuation concerns had serious impacts beyond just Tavernier.