Developer wants to build 200 apartments above the retail store
Owen Trepanier, a planning consultant for the proposed Rockland Key shopping center, said the developer is set to propose building a second floor on the retail building to accommodate about 200 apartments.
“I’m working on the changes to the development agreement right now,” he said.
Rockland Investment Corp., working with developer David Garfunkel of Savannah, Georgia, intends to start the ball rolling by applying for a change from the industrial and commercial zoning to mixed use, with amendments to the future land use map to allow for affordable housing at higher density.
“It would change the whole face of the project,” Trepanier said. “We would be building a whole community out there, versus just a shopping center.”
This is not a complete departure from Walmart’s business plan. It has already built two such complexes in the last two years — retail below and residence above — in Washington, D.C. One had 345 apartments and the other 303.
The “special overlay” of rules to the county’s comprehensive plan requires the retail center to have an affordable housing component. The ordinance says approval from the county is contingent on a “mutually agreeable affordable housing requirement.” In August, Trepanier submitted a developer’s agreement that proposed giving the 33 transferable development rights associated with the Rockland Key property to Habitat for Humanity, so the non-profit could sell them on the open market to net about $500,000 to fund future affordable housing projects. In addition, the developer hired Miami Economic Associates to perform a study that concluded affordable housing isn’t required because Walmart will be “preponderantly staffed by people already living in Monroe County … we do not believe the proposed project would create significant new demand for affordable housing.”
In a September letter, the Monroe County Planning Department requested more information; specifically the entire report from Miami Economic Associates and information regarding how other communities have addressed the relationship between new commercial development and affordable housing.
If the project doesn’t create a demand for affordable housing, then why build it?
Trepanier said the builder of the Rockland Key shopping center, David Garfunkel & Company, understands the existing need for workforce housing in the Lower Keys.
“Studies show that the shopping center itself will not create a need for additional affordable housing. Nonetheless, by constructing the shopping center, David Garfunkel & Co. will actually create a platform on which affordable housing can be built. And we all know that the greatest impediment to building affordable housing is acquiring the land,” Trepanier said. “That is why we are suggesting the construction of affordable housing on these rooftops. Since the retail would have to be constructed with additional strength to support the housing, the decision has to be made before the commencement of retail construction.”
“We’ve got a solution. We just need the county to work with us,” Trepanier said.
The proposed Rockland Key shopping center is 335,000 square feet of retail space, including 144,000 square feet for Walmart. According to the Miami Economic Associates Inc. report, the retail center would require 470 fulltime equivalent workers — or about 363 full time employees and 400 part time employees. It also reports that Walmart will pay its employees between $10 and $24 an hour, with an average salary of $13 an hour.
The developer declined to discuss the cost of the retail center, but previous news reports put the retail development cost at $30 million, which does not include the affordable housing component.
I don’t necessarily have a problem with [apartments above Walmart]. However, I need to our staff to look at the proposal to see if 200 is the right number. And it could only happen if the Navy allows it, but long-term housing above commercial space is one of the things we have to look at to increase the amount of affordable housing.
— Heather Carruthers, Monroe County Commissioner
“It’s not that I am against the idea of building more affordable housing, but I think the question is moot because of the county and Navy’s zoning laws. The Rockland Key shopping center development is in the AICUZ zone which is heavily regulated and the Navy is adamantly opposed to residential development in this area. Walmart, as well as any large scale commercial development in Monroe County, has a responsibility and obligation to provide workforce housing for its employees.
— George Neugent, Monroe County Commissioner