A major conditional use request to develop the former BB&T bank building to a distillery and tasting room on Plantation Key was tabled during the Sept. 15 meeting of Islamorada Village Council. 

Village officials say they’re planning a special call meeting in roughly two weeks to discuss the item for Crooked Palm Distillery. While there’s no definitive date set, the matter will likely be heard sometime early October. 

Inside the Founders Park Community Center, Village Manger Ted Yates said ongoing discussions regarding conditions and certain aspects of the application by CBT Construction and owner Chris Trentine led council to remove the agenda item one day before the meeting. 

“Council did not feel it was appropriate to move forward this evening because we could not get all the information put together and agreed upon in time for the meeting tonight,” Yates said. “Nothing is going to change. It just moves it to a special call meeting so that it is more isolated, because I anticipate there’s going to be significant public comment and I think council would like to focus on that specific issue.”

Property that would house the distillery fronts U.S. 1, Gardenia Street and Palm Drive on Plantation Key. Above the distillery sit seven affordable housing units. It’s zoned village center and has a mixed use future land use classification. Near the proposed distillery sits Capt. Craig’s Restaurant, Payfair grocery store and a 24-hour 7-Eleven, of which all allow for the purchase or serving of alcohol. 

According to the village, the council can approve a major conditional use, approve the use with conditions or deny the request. Council must consider seven factors that meet goals and policies of the comprehensive plan, are compatible with land uses in the vicinity of the project and minimizes adverse impacts, to name a few. 

A number of variances are also proposed in connection with the distillery deal with buffers between U.S. 1, Palm Avenue and Gardenia Street, parking and landscaping. One of the main concerns surrounding the project, as stated by village planning staff in an analysis, surrounds the proposed 5,400-square-feet outdoor seating area. According to the analysis, the outdoor seating area’s size limits the ability to provide parking, landscaping and buffer improvements that are consistent with village standards. 

Trentine told Keys Weekly there have been back and forth over certain conditions. But everything else within the application is ready to go. Trentine said there are plans to place big buffers between the establishment and other buildings and homes to address buffer improvements and issues from the public over noise. Residents coming before the village council have voiced concerns over music that would potentially come from the property.

“The village has these big buffer requirements and they’re giving us a variance on that. In exchange we’re doing hedges, which actually creates more of a buffer,” he said. “It will be more of a wall of trees versus plantings that you see at Publix. 

“We’re doing a double hedge, we’re doing a fence around the outdoor seating area, and then that will have a hedge around it,” Trentine continued. “We will also have a hedge wrapping around from Gardenia Street to exit out of Palm Avenue, so that will be a double buffer.”

Larisa Baste, manager of Islamorada Brewery & Distillery, said she tested noise at the outdoor patio of the proposed distillery. She brought a local musician who plays at Islamorada Brewery & Distillery at MM 82.2 to the site of the new distillery to set up his amplifier to test out the noise. She said she had him play louder than she would actually like. She proceeded to take noise readings at the corner of Gardenia and Palm and across the highway. 

“When he was playing at what I would say a still more than normal volume, it was 77 decibels right there on the patio, which usually in the Beer Garden 70 (decibels) is highish,” she said. “At the corner of Gardenia and Palm, that was at a peak of 61 decibels. A car turning that corner peaked at 88 decibels.” 

Baste said they’ve agreed to reduce outdoor noise hours beyond the requirement. In addition, they’ve agreed to end amplification outside earlier than required. 

“The fact that in all those situations it (the decibel level) was less than the noise of a passing car, much less one revving its engine, suggests that we’re not dealing with a massive rock concert here. It’s a small area. It’s not meant to be an entertainment complex. It’s meant to be local people enjoying local products in a safe and family friendly environment.”

The distillery would serve the public with a small production space where spirits are distilled, blended and aged onsite. In addition, the space would allow patrons to sample and learn about the spirits. 

Described as an “island upscale” cocktail bar, Crooked Palm Distillery aims to serve Islamorada beer, cocktails on tap, frozen drinks and nonalcoholic mixers. The proposal also includes the outdoor seating area of 5,400 square feet and a wood-fired pizza food truck.

A petition seeking support for Crooked Palm Distillery garnered more than 1,000 signatures as of Sept. 16. But some concerned residents say they don’t want the noise. Eduardo Suarez is a recently retired U.S. Postal Service postmaster in Key Largo. A resident of Plantation Key Colony for 20 years, he urged council members to visit the neighborhood to hear from the residents.  

“It’s not that we don’t like the business owner. … excellent human being. But some of us have worked super hard to live in a great neighborhood,” he said. “We don’t want the noise. We’re thinking about the children.”

Steve Leopold is a 30-year resident of Plantation Key Colony who expressed his support for the project. 

“I heard a lot of negativity about Crooked Palm Distillery. Myself, my wife and both my kids are both supportive of going forward with Crooked Palm,” he said. I’d much prefer to tell someone to make a right-turn at Crooked Palm than making a right-turn at 7-Eleven. 

In April, council members voted 4-1 to allow the sale of alcohol for the new distillery. Permits are already in Trentine’s hands. Windows and doors are already onsite, and the floor is ready for pouring. If all goes as planned and a major conditional use is approved, the work to bring a distillery to Plantation Key could be complete in three to four months.

Jim McCarthy is one of the many 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 4-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, hockey, mixed martial arts and golf. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.