Redevelopment of property just south of Snake Creek bridge in Islamorada took a step forward following approval of a major conditional use permit by the village council on May 18. 

A 4-1 vote by the dais came following several questions and concerns from a few council members and residents regarding what they felt was a proposed intense development of the formerly-known Smuggler’s Cove property. Once a 12-unit motel and restaurant, developers Morada Cove Partners LLC, which acquired property in 2021, plan to develop a waterfront destination with a hotel and four restaurants. 

Councilwoman Elizabeth Jolin voted “no” due to issues over the floor area calculations for the project located at MM 85.5. Village code only allows new buildings to have a floor area of no more than 10,000 square feet. A site plan shows the building area for the restaurants totaling 21,279 square feet. But the developers believe only about 5,560 square feet counts as floor area, thus keeping them below the floor area requirement. 

Jolin, who also had issues with the current boat sales activity on the property, initially tried to pull the item from the agenda due to what she called “the wide departure from the original approval of the application” in May 2022. A year ago, the dais approved a minor conditional use and a shoreline variance. Following a brief discussion, the council majority elected to proceed with the majority conditional use permit request. 

Jennifer DeBoisbriand, village planning director, told the dais that staff recommended approval of the project, which complied with all areas of the village code. Thirteen conditions were outlined as part of the agreement. One condition states that Morada Cove must maintain 174 parking spaces on site and through a lease with the Florida Department of Transportation to use the right-of-way.

Ty Harris, attorney on behalf of the Morada Cove Partners, said a major conditional use permit was spurred by plans to construct a larger restaurant. Plans include a tiki grill that’s open for lunch, a restaurant that serves breakfast and lunch, known as The Ledge, a high-end steak and seafood restaurant that opens at 5 p.m, known as Prime 85, and an outdoor restaurant known as The Patio. Harris said they’ll look to redo a traffic study to accommodate additional restaurant seating. 

In addition to a hotel and restaurants, Harris said developers plan to re-establish the old bait shop and add a pool that’s open to locals. 

“I anticipate this being local-friendly,” he said. “You’re going to see more traffic during the day when people are out on their boats. That really is the game plan, to have people who are local who are coming by boat.”

Councilman Mark Gregg agreed with the staff’s recommendation to approve the major conditional use request. But he expressed concerns about light pollution and use of helicopters. 

“I’m going to have faith in the good neighbor attitude that the applicant’s going to go along with that,” he said. 

Councilman Henry Rosenthal said he’d like to vote “no” on the project due to the intensity of the development. But he ultimately voted in favor of the project. 

“I wish the project was not as large as it is,” he said.”

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.