COUNTY STAFF HAS QUESTIONS ON TAVERNIER PUBLIX PROJECT

A Publix, liquor store and housing for the Keys workforce are proposed for the Cemex concrete property in Tavernier. MONROE COUNTY/Contributed

A proposal to allow development of a supermarket in Tavernier is facing questions by county officials over whether it fits the town’s community character. There are also questions on whether it’s consistent with a local community planning initiative put into place in the early 2000s. 

Monroe County’s Development Review Committee met virtually on Oct. 25 to examine several development applications and requests. One included a proposed text amendment to apply a Tavernier Key Overlay District at the Cemex concrete property at Mile Marker 92.5. The proposal put forth by developers would permit nonresidential development of up to 70,000 square feet. Developers are hoping to construct a 64,000-square-foot Publix, a liquor store and some 80 housing units for workers who make a majority of their income in Monroe County. 

Property is still under the ownership of Cemex, but it’s under contract to be bought by the Toppinos.

An application requesting the overlay by Smith Hawks, PL and attorney Barton Smith states that the proposed use of the property reduces the current heavy industrial use to a less intensive use that’s more compatible with the surrounding area. 

“Similar to the cities discussed in the ‘Industrial Rezoning in U.S. Cities’ report by Connor Harris, this industrial site is prime for the proposed redevelopment. Harris contends that the redevelopment of heavy industrial parcels that occupy central or transit-accessible land promote economic well-being of the cities they are in by permitting residential and commercial uses that derive greater benefits from the central location. Benefits range from additional property-tax revenue to a reduction in housing and commercial rents in the area by adding additional building supply to the area.”

The former Cemex concrete property at Mile Marker 92.5 in Tavernier. KEYS WEEKLY FILE PHOTO

And according to the application “there will be no adverse change in unincorporated Monroe County if the overlay is approved,” nor would it “negatively affect the community character and aesthetic appeal of (the) Tavernier community.” Cheryl Cioffari, assistant planning director, told the DRC that the developer must address questions they have over the project and its consistency with Tavernier’s community character and the Liveable CommuniKeys Master Plan (LCP) that extends from Mile Marker 97 to Tavernier Creek Bridge. 

“At this juncture we will look at what we can do to address those concerns,” Smith told the DRC.

County officials are also seeking a traffic study in the area of the development, which saw a new traffic light placed at U.S. 1 and Burton Drive heading into Harry Harris earlier in the year. What once saw cars moving freely along the highway has now brought frequent stops and backups in order to allow motorists to come and go from the Harry Harris community.

But the larger question surrounds the LCP, which aims to protect the environment, preserve historical elements in Tavernier and guide development in a manner that’s compatible with community goals. Under the plan’s community character element, goal three outlines a prohibition on designating new commercial land use districts in order to protect the existing viability of the U.S. 1 corridor area. It’s something Richard Barreto, member of the Tavernier Community Association, highlighted during an Aug. 23 community meeting. 

“The Tavernier Key Overlay clearly is a new commercial district,” Barreto told the DRC during the public comment portion. “Tell me how are you going to overcome that obstacle, or are we going to ignore the LCP?”

Barreto added that the community wants to preserve its small town environment. 

The DRC solely reviews applications and doesn’t make a formal vote of approval or disapproval. Emily Schemper, county planning director, said the application will proceed to the county Planning Commission. If approved, it will then head to the board of county commissioners.

Jim McCarthy is a Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, mixed martial arts and golf. He loves to hit the links and play some softball with his Make A Play team. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.