Residents fear Publix would increase traffic on Jungle Trail

Residents living near, but not in, the Town of Orchid who are opposed to the proposal to build a Publix on County Road 510 say the supermarket would increase traffic on Jungle Trail, contending that shoppers would use the historic road as a cut-through to Windsor and other communities on the northern tier of the barrier island.

County planners downplayed their concerns.

Both Stan Boling, the county’s community development director, and Phil Matson, staff director of the county’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, said it was unlikely a significant number of shoppers would opt for an unpaved road with a 30-mph speed limit as a shortcut to and from the store.

“I don’t think they would drive a mile on an unpaved roadway when they could take 510 to A1A, which is a smoother and faster route,” Boling said. “There would be no direct access to Jungle Trail from the supermarket site – you’d have to go out to 510, anyway – and there’s really not that much congestion at the 510-A1A intersection.

“People are free to speculate,” he added, “but I’d be shocked if we saw any real increase in traffic on Jungle Trail because of this.”

Matson agreed, questioning the need for such a shortcut, even if the Publix is built.

“As you get further north on A1A, there’s less and less congestion,” he said, “so there’s less incentive to look for a cut-through.”

Neither Matson nor Boling, however, said he would be surprised if the group that unsuccessfully sought to close that section of Jungle Trail to motor-vehicle traffic last year uses the Publix proposal to resurrect its efforts.

Last spring, Old Orchid resident Matt Lechowicz approached individual county commissioners with a 155-signature petition asking that bollards be installed to deny access to motor vehicles on the three-mile-plus stretch of Jungle Trail north of 510.

Lechowicz’s group cited safety concerns, especially for bicyclists and pedestrians, but county historian Ruth Stanbridge opposed the move, arguing that closing the northern part of Jungle Trail could harm the county’s ability to get state and federal grants to preserve the roadway, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.

Commissioners sided with Stanbridge, and the trail remains open.

“The commissioners have jurisdiction over Jungle Trail, and they’ve made their decision,” Boling said. “Certainly, any future commission could look at it, if the traffic conditions change. But I don’t think this Publix proposal is going to change it.”

Orchid Town Manager Noah Powers said Publix would be required to conduct a traffic study if the company decides to move forward with its plans to build a downsized supermarket on a seven-acre parcel on the north side of 510, immediately west of Jungle Trail.

Powers said last week he didn’t know when or if Publix would submit the necessary application for developing the property, which it has contracted to purchase from Vero Beach developer Ken Puttick.

If Publix submits an application this summer, Orchid officials aren’t expected to take any formal action until the fall, Powers said, adding that both the Local Planning Agency and Town Council would be required to conduct quasi-judicial public hearings before voting on the proposal.

Already, though, several of Lechowicz’s Old Orchid neighbors have expressed concerns that their community, much of which runs along the east side of Jungle Trail, adjacent to the proposed supermarket site, will be negatively impacted by the opening of a Publix-anchored strip mall.

They cited increased traffic on 510, noise emanating from the shopping area, security issues, stormwater management, aesthetics, the intrusive aura of parking-lot lighting as well as overuse and potential damage to Jungle Trail done by shoppers seeking a shortcut.

“You’ll see a lot more traffic on Jungle Trail, especially during the season,” Old Orchid resident David Fischer said. “How can more traffic on Jungle Trail not be a negative?”

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