A project to transform a Key Largo clothing store into a gas station and convenience store largely meets Monroe County development code, according to county staff at a Jan. 24 meeting of the Development Review Committee. 

However, county staff recommended the county Planning Commission deny a variance request by the applicant for a curb cut requirement. A lengthy discussion led the planning commission to table the matter at a Jan. 25 meeting in Marathon.

Owners Daniel Barry Jr. and Archer Barry filed an application in February 2022 to turn the clothing store at Mile Marker 98.2 into a 7-Eleven gas station with 11 fueling stations and a 24/7 convenience store. No specific deceleration lanes are currently provided entering the property from U.S. 1. The site currently has four curb cuts that allow motorists on U.S. 1 to enter and exit. 

Per a proposal brought forth by the applicant’s agent, Axis Infrastructure, an enter-only and exit-only would be provided for each direction of U.S. 1. Curb cuts to allow traffic in and out of the site on the northbound and southbound sides would have been roughly 146 feet apart, which didn’t meet county code requirements for 245 feet. 

County staff told the five planning commission members they were recommending denial of the variance request. According to a staff report, land code states that no use fronting U.S. 1 or County Road 905 can receive a permit for change of use, expansion or substantial improvement unless it is brought into compliance by provision of combined drives or parallel access, and with any access standards or requirements by the Florida Department of Transportation. 

“However to date, the applicant has not submitted documentation which demonstrates that FDOT has approved the proposed access drive configuration,” the report states. “Additionally, the subject property appears to have adequate area to either reduce and/or completely eliminate the number of access drives off of U.S. 1 and take access from Grand Street.”

Joe Scarpelli, planning commission chairman, said he believes deceleration lanes are needed to access the proposed 7-Eleven development. Ron Demes, vice chair, said traffic will “hugely increase” when looking at a 7-Eleven compared to a clothing store. 

With the matter tabled, developers will need to come back before the county Planning Commission with an updated plan. A meeting to take up the major conditional use request to allow for the 7-Eleven development hasn’t been scheduled just yet. Twelve public commenters voiced their opposition not only to the variance request, but the project as a whole. 

During the Jan. 24 virtual meeting, 12 county staff members who make up the DRC voiced no other major issues with an application for a major conditional use permit at the current Anthony’s clothing store. The DRC makes recommendations to the Monroe County Planning Commission, where four of the five members must vote “yes” to approve the major conditional use request. 

During recent community meetings, local residents living near the proposed project shared concerns over more traffic and fears of accidents. The developer’s agent, Jason Green of Axis Infrastructure, said the project doesn’t create more traffic in comparison to destinations like a clothing store. Green said the gas station and convenience store only capture vehicles driving in and out of the Keys.

Patricia McGrath told the DRC that the area doesn’t need any more high-intensity uses such as gas stations. 

“The Monroe County Planning Department, I believe, should be in the business of protecting its citizens from developments like these,” she said. 

Dottie Moses, president of the Key Largo Federation of Homeowners Association, said the project is a “very large traffic concern,” especially with no deceleration lanes proposed. 

“We can’t understand why they’d move forward with a high-intensity use that exacerbates issues on the highway,” Moses 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.