Plans for a Publix supermarket on the North Barrier Island are rolling forward like a loaded shopping cart. Shortly after a presentation to the Orchid Town Council and a chamber full of residents on April 4, Publix notified Town Manager Noah Powers it will proceed with an application to build an upscale market on a 7-acre property north on County Road 510 within the town’s boundaries.
A parking lot full of golf carts and a Council Chamber packed with Orchid residents testified to the intense interest – and concern – the proposed project has generated among those who would be its neighbors, and the Publix team got an earful of questions, suggestions and concerns.
The Florida-based company, currently one of the 10 largest-volume supermarket chains in the country, came prepared with slides, flipcharts, conceptual site plan drawings, and answers to most of the audience questions. Craig Buchanan, president of WindCrest Development Group, and James Vitter of Vero Beach engineering firm Kimley-Horn fielded questions.
At 31,000 square feet, the proposed island market will not be petite, but it will have a smaller footprint than a typical 45,000-square-foot Publix – and be about half the size of the Miracle Mile Publix.
An additional 6,000 square feet included in the conceptual plan will accommodate five retail tenants, including a Publix liquor store that will occupy a 1,200-square-foot slot. It would join the Bottleshop as the only liquor stores on the island.
Occupants for the other four retail spaces will be chosen to meet local needs, and could include tenants such as a hair salon, a mail box store and a restaurant.
Buchanan called the conceptual design “unique, a prototype” created with the neighborhood in mind, featuring “a West-Indies look with beach and Jungle Trail influences.”
Publix’s inventory, too, will cater to the island’s high-end clientele, with a larger cheese and wine selection and more organic products.
The April 4 audience included some residents who objected to the store in general terms, saying there was no need for another Publix, but most concerns and questions, were specific: Orchid residents wanted details about traffic, lights, noise, drainage, tax impact, aesthetics and security.
Buchanan and Vitter explained that Publix will work with the county traffic engineer, and said a traffic light at the store entrance between the bridge and A1A is being considered.
Parking lot lights will be adjustable LEDs, their placement and intensity determined with the surrounding residential community in mind. Delivery trucks are expected to have minimum negative impact, according to Publix. Some vendors, such as bread trucks, will deliver early in the morning before the store opens. Other daytime deliveries will off-load inside the building.
The conceptual plan calls for multi-layer landscape buffering between the store and nearby homes, as well as decorative, landscaped parking lot islands and flowering pots in strategic public areas. There will be, Buchanan assured one concerned resident, no increase in property taxes and, in fact, the business would generate tax income for the Town.
Drainage is not a problem, according to Publix. The store’s representatives said St. Johns River Water Management District has looked at the plan and informed them run-off from the property will be handled by the existing drainage system.
Some queries could not be answered at the initial meeting, Buchanan said, because the project is still in the conceptual phase, but the public will have more opportunities to ask questions and offer input as the process goes forward.
Following the workshop, residents remained to talk with the Publix reps and study the charts and drawings, many voicing support for the project.
Once Publix submits the application, Powers explained, the Town’s planner will review the document to ensure it is accurate and complete, and then pass it to the Town’s Local Planning Agency.
Next, Publix will present the final plan at a quasi-judicial hearing where public input will be allowed. After that, the Planning Agency will make a recommendation to the Town Council, for or against the project.
The Council will consider the recommendation and the final plan, take questions from the public, and vote to approve or reject the development application.
If the project is approved, Publix officials say it would take about eight months to complete.
High-end barrier island Realtors generally see the project as a plus for the community, as long as it fits with the Town’s upscale ambiance.
Premier Estate Properties broker associate Cindy O’Dare says a market for the north barrier island is a good idea, “as long as it looks like it belongs, in keeping with the surrounding environment.” She mentioned Coral Gables as a place where Publix has done a good job fitting into upscale surroundings.
Orchid Island Realty broker Scott Oberlink agreed, noting that Windsor, John’s Island, and other north-island communities also would benefit from the convenience of a nearby market, as long as it has a smaller footprint than a typical Publix and is compatible architecturally.