Publix won’t have to park its plans for a new Longboat Key store.
The Longboat Key Town Commission gave the Lakeland-based Publix Super Markets Inc. the green light to move forward with its plans, voting 6-0 Monday night to approve three outline-development plans on second reading and public hearing in addition to a site-plan amendment related to the project. Commissioner Phill Younger was not present at the meeting.
But parking was a major concern throughout the process leading up to the approval. The preliminary application submitted in July called for a total of 443 spaces on the site, even though town code required only 320. In response to concern, Publix reduced its planned parking to 384 spaces — an amount that Publix officials emphasized was the lowest number they could accommodate. Publix attorney Dan Bailey read a letter written by Jeff Chamberlain, Publix vice president of real estate, to Town Attorney David Persson.
“While Publix has made every effort to balance the desire to create a park-like setting with Publix’s commitment to providing its customers with a premier shopping-center experience, the parking provided on the plan presented to the town council represents the limit of what Publix requires to serve the residents of the town,” it stated.
But commissioners had other concerns about parking, including the possibility of large service trucks taking up multiple spaces. Publix agent Michael Leeds argued that the issue was one that could be addressed by the store’s manager if it becomes a problem.
“If there’s a problem, the manager’s not outside, but there are plenty of people who report to the manager who are outside in that parking lot all the time,” Leeds said. “Believe me, the manager is gonna find out about it.”
“Are you implying that the people on Longboat Key tend to complain about things?” Commissioner Jack Duncan joked.
“No sir,” Leeds said. “I’m just letting you know that they will express their opinions, which isn’t just Longboat Key, it’s anywhere. If a landscape truck pulls up and takes up six spaces, we’ll hear about it.”
Before the questions could continue, Mayor Jim Brown said that it was time for the applicant to make a presentation, although Publix didn’t have one.
“I think we spoke enough last month,” Leeds said, referring to the Jan. 9 meeting in which discussion stretched until almost midnight.
Later at the meeting, Leeds emphasized that the clock was ticking for the project: The supermarket chain hopes to pick up its building permit on or about March 6. In order to meet CVS’ requirement of continuous operation throughout the project and Publix’s requirement of an opening before Christmas of this year, construction work must begin by March 15 “plus or minus a couple of days,” Leeds said, beginning with utility work and closing off a portion of the parking area to begin work on the CVS construction pad.
Leeds suggested that even a 30- to 45-day delay could cause the project to unravel: He said that Publix was unlikely to move forward if it couldn’t open its new store by Christmas. A delay would jeopardize the sales of two neighboring parcels, which are owned by W. Howard Rooks and Joseph Wolfers, that are part of the project.
Leeds stressed the ways that Publix had compromised over the last months, citing revisions to its parking plans, changes to a vegetation buffer along the privately owned Bay Isles Parkway in response to concerns from Bay Isles residents and Publix’s willingness to commission a local artist to design a piece of public art for the property — one that he described at last month’s meeting “will be something that captures the essence of Longboat Key culture.”
As the debate continued, Brown agreed that Publix had already accepted a compromise. He cited his background as an architect and said he had never been asked to provide fewer parking spaces on a site.
The discussion continued for more than two hours before the commission voted. The commission added language that incorporated an offer made by Leeds, requiring Publix to place parallel parking for service vehicles at the perimeter of the lot as long as a 20-foot buffer is maintained.
Publix plans to close its existing store in April, demolish it in May and re-open by December. CVS will remain open throughout the construction.