An aerial view of the Tavernier oceanside where a Cemex concrete property sits. Developers are seeking to develop the property into a Publix grocery store, liquor store and workforce housing. DAVID GROSS/Keys Weekly

A proposal that would pave the way for a grocery store, a liquor store and housing at a dormant Tavernier concrete property will go before the Monroe County Planning Commission next month.

Specifically, the planning commission will consider a request from the developers that would change county development regulations to allow nonresidential development up to 70,000 square feet on the property located at MM 92.5, oceanside. Current county code only allows for 10,000 square feet of nonresidential floor area. 

The county planning commission would recommend approval to the five Monroe County Commissioners, who would have the final say in the matter. If all the necessary approvals are garnered for the code change, developers would then need approval of a major conditional use request in order to proceed with constructing a 64,000-square-foot Publix. Developers are also looking to construct 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 Blackstone Group – Tavernier 925, which consists of Andrew, Richard and John Toppino, Louis Perez and Mary Hurwitz.  

The development’s magnitude and whether it fits the community character of a quiet and tranquil Tavernier remain large questions for concerned residents, as well as county staff. Cheryl Cioffari, assistant planning director, told the county Development Review Committee during a meeting last October that the developer must address questions about the project and its consistency with Tavernier’s community character and the Liveable CommuniKeys Master Plan, (LCP) which extends from MM 97 to Tavernier Creek Bridge. 

The LCP 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. 

County officials also sought a traffic study from the applicant to show what the project might do in an area that saw a new traffic light placed at U.S. 1 and Burton Drive heading into Harry Harris in early 2022. 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.

A county calendar shows the next planning commission meeting on April 26 at Marathon Government Center at 10 a.m. The meeting will be a hybrid style, with attendance in person or via Zoom. 

If the code change is approved, the developers would need to follow a similar process to obtain a major conditional use permit in order to construct the stores and housing. A community meeting, development review committee meeting and a planning commission meeting would take place to consider the proposal. However, the planning commission would ultimately give approval or disapproval on the use.

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.