The Cutler Bay Town Council on Wednesday refused to bend its land-use rules to allow a new Publix shopping center on Old Cutler Road, saying the developer was asking for too big of a departure for the city’s vision for the site.
Council members voted 3-2 to deny several variances for the site, including one that would have allowed GCF Investments Inc. to pave or build on 76 percent of the site when town rules allow a maximum of 70 percent.
“This is our first chance to do what is right,” said Mayor Ed MacDougall, who urged his fellow council members to vote against the variances. “At the end of the day, we should not give away anything the people have not asked us to give away.”
“I heard the people,” said council member Mary Ann L. Mixon after voting no, “Our city is going to follow the mission of staying green. We can’t do it with people and emails saying that they are not in favor.”
Council member Sue Ellen Loyzelle and vice mayor Ernie Sochin voted in support of the Publix.
GCF Investments sought the council’s approval to build a 54,000-square-foot Publix grocery store on 11 acres between Southwest 208th and 212th streets.
During Wednesday’s hearing, the council weighed in on whether the plan diverged too much from a 2002 charette, which called for a mixed-use town square surrounded by both commercial and residential buildings. The charette suggested that the 35-acre area known as the “Old Potato Field,” including the proposed Publix site, be converted into a pedestrian-friendly “center for the community.”
When asked by Council Member Peggy Bell during the hearing if the project could have been done within the parameters of the town’s code, Jerry Zamora, an engineer for the project, said it was possible, but it would’ve resulted in fewer parking spaces, a complaint that many residents have about the current Publix just north of the project.
“I believe the people were clear in that charette, and I understand very clearly the thoughts of the people and that Publix was not it,” Mayor MacDougall said after the meeting.
MacDougall said that many of the concerns with the project could have been avoided if the developer had chosen to purchase more land for the project.
“I was lost over why they would try to put a project that size at 11 acres,” said MacDougall. “This land is approximately 35 acres. They have chosen 11 to build on. They tried to cram this into a small piece of property.”
During the hearing, Julian Perez, the director of community development for Cutler Bay, called into question the number of jobs that the new Publix would bring to the town, as well as concerns that the additional impervious space would bring a greater amount of run-off .
Sochin, however, said that the current Publix was not able to handle the needs and wants of the city’s residents.
“The city has changed, the town has changed. Make the decision based on the needs of the town,” said Sochin before the vote.
A majority of the residents who spoke during the hearing were opposed to the center.
“This does not fit our plans, folks. We want a mixed use project. That’s what the charette has called for,” resident Art Nannie told the council. “Don’t cave, protect this town’s integrity.”
After voting against the variance proposal, the council unanimously passed a motion that agreed to waive the one-year waiting period for GCF Investments to resubmit a plan to build a new Publix.
“They are going to have to submit a new application. It’s going to have to go through the same tests,” said MacDougall.