an aerial view of a city with lots of traffic
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

The Florida Department of Commerce rejected an ordinance Monroe County commissioners approved via 4-1 vote in February for a proposed Tavernier Key Commercial Overlay District (TKCOD), which would have allowed construction of a Publix supermarket and liquor store on property in Tavernier. 

On May 16, a final order by the commerce department was sent to County Mayor Craig Cates, fellow commissioners and Kevin Madok, county clerk. It stated the TKCOD development standards exceed those applicable to the Tavernier community under the Monroe County Comprehensive Plan, specifically those provided by the Livable CommuniKeys Master Plan for Tavernier Creek to MM 97.

Further, the commerce department stated the ordinance improperly creates an overlay district to exempt the subject property from the development standards applicable to other properties within Tavernier — inconsistent with the Monroe County Comprehensive Plan.

“All land development regulations enacted, amended or rescinded within an area of critical state concern must be consistent with the principles for guiding development for that area,” the order reads. 

In February, four commissioners said “yes” to the overlay district and essentially allowing a 47,240-square-foot supermarket and 2,100-square-foot liquor store. The project was also looking to build 86 units of workforce housing, with 58 two-bed, two-bath units, 16 three-bed, two bath units and 12 one-bed, one-bath units. The development group, consisting of Midwest developers Joe and Mary Hurwtiz and longtime locals Andrew, John and Richard Toppino, are working with the Jacksonville-based Vestcor Companies on the design and build of housing for those making 70% of their incomes in Monroe County.  

County planning staff recommended denial of the proposal due to its inconsistency with the goals and objectives of the Tavernier Livable CommuiKeys Plan, which guides development in the area from Tavernier Creek to MM 97. The plan prohibits designation of new commercial land use districts beyond that contained in the master plan in order to protect the existing availability of the U.S. 1 corridor area and community center. Many neighbors of the project and fellow Tavernier residents expressed concerns over more traffic and a change to the historic, quaint community. Some pointed out the project was in conflict with the CommuniKeys plan.

Early in the process, developers were proposing a 60,000 square-foot supermarket and liquor store. Following various meetings, the decision was made to reduce the size to less than 50,000 square feet. Developers say they could have constructed separate 10,000-square-foot commercial buildings up to 152,000 square feet on the property, per current county code. Bart Smith, attorney for the applicant, has said they’re reducing the property intensity and use for the future.

Commissioners voicing their support in February acknowledged the need for 86 workforce housing units in the Upper Keys, with preference given to essential workers in the Keys who are struggling to find living space. Construction of half the units would need to be complete — with a temporary certificate of occupancy in hand — before building would begin on the supermarket. 

Mayor Holly Raschein and commissioners David Rice, Michelle Lincoln and Jim Scholl voted in favor of the overlay. Commissioner Craig Cates was the lone “no” vote. 

The commerce department stated the ordinance is inconsistent with the Principles for Guiding Development as a whole, and specifically fails to comply with strengthening local government capabilities for managing land use and development so that local government is able to achieve these objectives without continuing the area of critical state concern designation. The order takes effect 21 days from May 16, unless an appeal is filed by the development group. 

Jim McCarthy
Jim McCarthy is one of the many who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures in Western New York. 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 5-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club. When he's not working, he's busy chasing his son, Lucas, around the house and enjoying time with family.