For some in Cutler Bay, plans for a new Publix on Old Cutler Road is just the kind of flouting of local values that prompted them to incorporate their town in 2005.
The supermarket would sit on 11 acres of a property known locally as the "potato field," which abuts Old Cutler, a state-designated historic highway.
A 2002 charette attended by hundreds of residents identified the site as a future town square surrounded by commercial and residential buildings, trees and sidewalks. And last year, the town adopted land-use regulations that were guided by that vision for the town.
But others in the town point to the inadequacies of the current Publix, just a few blocks north of the proposed site, with its limited parking and its crowded aisles.
At 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Town Council members will consider whether to grant seven variances to the Town’s regulations to allow developer PV-Cutler Bay and owner GCF Investments to build a new 54,000 square foot Publix. The site lies on Old Cutler between SW 208th and 212nd Streets.
The town staff last week recommended denial of the new proposed site plan, The Shoppes of Cutler Bay, which was revised after the last hearing in November, when the council postponed final action.
Juan Mayol of the law firm Holland and Knight, which represents GCF and PV-Cutler Bay, declined to comment.
While debates over this shopping center echo those of other large developments, they are intensified here because the potato field is one of the largest vacant lots within Cutler Bay. Like much of South Dade, Cutler Bay is only a couple decades removed from its rural roots.
“I used to take my son duck hunting where the current Publix is, because it was all open field and wooded areas back there,” said Cutler Bay Mayor Ed MacDougall, who has lived in the area since 1965, when he moved from Tampa as a teenager. The current Publix, built around 1986, is part of the Old Cutler Town Center, a strip mall.
Before incorporation, many Cutler Bay residents were frustrated by police services and public schools provided by the county and especially their representation in land use decisions.
"It boiled down to a community of people that felt disenfranchised,” said Nancy McCue, McCue led the movement for incorporation but now lives in Deerfield Beach. "The reform school was the tipping point."
The Bay Point schools, which closed a few years ago, took Cutler Bay residents by surprise when it opened around 1995. Bay Point was a residential school for juvenile offenders and was located just north of Black Point Park and next to Whigham Elementary school.
McCue also chaired a charette in 2002, where hundreds of residents discussed their vision for the yet-to-be-incorporated town. One of the primary questions of that workshop, what to do about Old Cutler Road?
Designated as a historic highway in 1974, Old Cutler Road was then described by the state legislature as having “the appearance and atmosphere of a country road.” The status meant, among other things, that state funds could not be used to widen the road. But in 2002, the road had “nothing ‘old’ or ‘historic’” about it anymore, remarked the authors of the 2002 charette plan.
McCue, a former police officer, had put together data showing the number of car accidents along one mile stretch of Old Cutler Road in the town.
In retrospect, MacDougall said, Miami-Dade County gave developers too free a hand.
“Developers and landowners had done what they wanted and done it with impunity,” he said.
The traffic and accidents along Old Cutler Road were a sign that the town had outgrown its infrastructure.
The 2002 charette led to a master plan for development along Old Cutler Road and in particular a vision for the potato field.
That vision was for the lot to become “a center for the community,” a site for public communal events, with a large public plaza, and residential and commercial buildings with a network of sidewalks and significant greenery.
“There were a lot of dreams there were never going to be realized.” McCue remarked.
This rings especially true for the potato field because GCF Investments took no part in the charette, said McCue and MacDougall. But the charette’s vision for the site is another reason debates over the new proposed Publix are so heated; many residents had participated in creating a very different plan for that land.
MacDougall said the town’s new regulations put the community in a better position to regulate development.
“We’re a quantum leap from where we were before,” observed Mayor MacDougall, “when our voice amounted to standing on the road and holding signs.”
The plan for the Shoppes at Cutler Bay is the first major development to be controlled by those new regulations.