During their Tuesday morning meeting, the Local Planning Agency approved two items, one a setback variance for a pool enclosure on Ibis Street and the other a minor CPD Amendment for Publix Supermarket to allow a 1500+ square feet liquor store to be built along the southeast wall of the existing store.
The Publix store, in operation since 2000, is allowed to sell beer and wine. The amendment application is necessary because their CPD does not include “liquor store” as an approved use. Notice of the hearing was mailed to 320 property owners within 500 feet of the front door of the proposed liquor store. No one spoke during public comment and only one call was received by the town looking for information on the request.
LPA members voiced several concerns, among them the proximity of Newton Park, seasonal traffic, lack of local Publix representatives at the hearing and whether the addition of a designated liquor store would free up room for a small pharmacy within the store.
Scott Safford pointed out that the traffic survey was done in July. “I’d like to see those numbers in March when traffic is a big issue.” He also mentioned that two existing liquor stores would be closing downtown due to redevelopment, though one plans to relocate.
Jason Green, head of the Town’s Community Development department and contract planner, explained that traffic surveys do not have to be done in season to take seasonal traffic into account, “They can do studies that reflect seasonal traffic.”
Noto said that she would pass the LPA’s traffic concerns along to Publix so that they can address them before Town Council later this fall.
Safford brought up the need for another pharmacy on the Island. “We have one pharmacy, CVS, but they don’t take Blue Cross Blue Shield anymore, so it’s half a pharmacy. Why not take the beer and wine out of the store and put in a small pharmacy?” he asked. “Can we ask for a pharmacy in our conditions?”
LPA Attorney John Herin, Jr. replied, “No. What is before you is to approve or deny a package store.”
Green suggested that the LPA could add pharmacy to the approved uses. Dan Hughes said, “I think we’re just ‘whistling Dixie.’ The decisions of what goes into that store are corporate. If they thought there was any financial benefit (to adding a pharmacy), it would be in front of us.”
Jim Atterholt, speaking to Adrienne Noto, the attorney representing Publix at the hearing, asked that she request local Publix officials attend the next hearing and ask them to address the economic pros & cons of adding a pharmacy to the store.
Chair Megan Heil noted that Newton Park is just outside of the 500-foot zone identified in the LDC. Safford added, “I can’t tell you how many beer cans I pick up in that park,” expressing his concern that the situation could get worse with a liquor store across the street. “Maybe the parks need more security,” suggested Jane Plummer.
After more discussion of traffic concerns, lack of local Publix officials and the impact of the liquor store on Newton Park, Herin reminded the LPA, “Your role is to recommend approval or denial to council. If you do not feel you have the information you need to make that decision, you can continue it.”
Safford said he favored a continuance so three issues could be addressed – pharmacy, traffic and park impacts. Atterholt agreed with him. Heil opined that a delay would not help much.
Plummer then made a motion for approval, with pharmacy included as a permitted use, a request that peak season traffic information be provided, a request that local Publix reps be present at the next hearing and that the Town confer with the Parks & Rec department about any Newton Park concerns, with all previous deviations and conditions applying. The final vote was 5-1, with Safford voting Nay. Tim Smith was absent.
In the other Public Hearing, the LPA unanimously approved a setback variance for a pool cage that would result in a 2-foot side setback to allow wheelchair access to a pool at 90 Ibis St.
The Ibis Variance and Publix CPD Amendment will both be heard by Town Council at a non-specified future date.
Council member Rexann Hosafros asked the LPA, at council’s direction, to consider zoning and land uses, specifically for Island churches, noting that the town has not updated their rules and is still using Lee County terms. Green suggested the LPA put the topic on a December work session agenda.
The next LPA meeting will be Wednesday, October 16 at 10:30am.