by B. Vigilant…….
Key West and Marathon have both Winn Dixie and Publix grocery stores. Should Big Pine Key also have two? The County is once again being asked if a Publix can replace the Big Pine Key flea market. This raises two questions:
1- Does this area ‘need’ a second grocery store?
2- How will the required commercial floor space be obtained?
Shoppers will ultimately answer the ‘need’ question based on individual opinions about parking, checkout lines, products and service. The County will answer the commercial floor space question.
Commercial Floor Space:
Commercial growth throughout Monroe County is linked to residential growth. There can be only so much of each. Growth on Big Pine Key is even more restrictive, and the amount of new commercial floor space (NROGO) that remains to be allocated on Big Pine is a small fraction of what Publix needs to build a shopping center. To make up the difference Publix is faced with the choice of purchasing and transferring existing commercial floor space on Big Pine Key or getting the County to consider the shaded areas in the old flea market the ‘equivalent’ of an enclosed building.
In 1976 the property owner paid $47 for a permit to cover an area 144 feet by 600 feet with shade cloth on the flea market property. Open only on weekends ‘in season,’ this flea market has seen a variety of shade tents, awnings and canopies come and go. During winter weekdays and in the summer the market is closed.
The County has rejected this ‘shade to building’ proposal before, most recently in 2011. However, there is a new development team working on the project. This is the team that eliminated 100 workforce homes at Big Pine’s Sea Horse RV Park in order to build a new hotel at Stock Island Marina Village. This team replaced a working marina with vacation rentals at Oceanside Marina, triggering lawsuits against both neighbors and the developer. This is the team that used affordable housing allocations and ‘lockouts’ to turn mobile homes into a 175 room hotel.
This team is now suggesting shaded areas in a flea market are the equivalent of a shopping center.
How many tents, umbrellas and awnings provide shade in the Keys? How many roadside or shopping center sales tents pop up on weekends? How many businesses and residents have put up a shade tent?
More importantly, how many received NROGO allocations for the area under this shade? Not many.
The Bottom Line:
Most of us know what a seasonal, weekend flea market is and most of us know what a shopping center is. Most of us understand the difference. This isn’t about the need for a new grocery store. This is about how development teams attempt to bend the rules for ‘their project’ with little regard for long term consequences. If one wants to build a grocery store – do it the right way.
Please keep in mind the mangled land development code interpretations this team has proposed as you (hopefully) encourage the County to think long and hard about letting shaded areas becoming shopping centers.