Weeks after Key Biscayne leaders approved plans for a new Walgreens, hundreds of residents have signed a petition opposing the development.
Residents are upset that the property owner wants to bring in a Walgreens with a liquor store at the corner of Crandon Boulevard and Harbor Drive - the entrance to Key Biscayne.
After an extended application period and disagreements between property owners, developers and the village’s planning and zoning department, the Village Council approved the new Walgreens at a council meeting last month.
Now, residents like former councilman Jorge Mendia hope they can make a convincing argument to get the property owner to reconsider. The property is one of the first sites that drivers will see as they enter the village on Crandon Boulevard.
“Either make a project that will make this community proud or have the vision to sell it to the village,” Mendia said.
The village council has considered purchasing the property, at 12 Crandon Blvd., in the past but did not act before businessman Max Puyanic and his partners purchased it in 2012. Mendia said the council missed an opportunity to purchase the 14,000-square-foot site, calling it the preeminent underdeveloped property on the island.
“There was that hope that it would be a big asset to the community and tell people that you’re coming to Key Biscayne,” Mendia said.
But Puyanic believes that the store can serve that function and will stand out in the village.
“This building is going to be the single most beautiful building on Key Biscayne,” Puyanic said. “It’s a step up from any other building on the Key.”
One of the petitioners, Karen Beber, said she hopes the facade will be attractive. But she was unimpressed with the initial presentation that made it seem as though Walgreens was going be just like any other.
“If Max had presented something that was beautiful and gorgeous and happened to be a Walgreens he would have gotten a much different reaction,” Beber said.
But, some of the petitioners don’t want to reach a middle ground and oppose the idea of the store entirely. Many have expressed a desire to see a store like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods or an open, green space, Beber said.
“For the residents it’s our ‘welcome home’ landmark, and that ‘welcome home’ landmark should be something we’re proud of, not, ‘oh my gosh, here’s that Walgreens.’ ”
Puyanic said that ultimately it comes down to the law and to zoning.
“It’s easy for anyone to say I’d rather have a park than a Walgreens but we have wonderful parks on Key Biscayne already,” Puyanic said. “This is commercially-owned land that is zoned and approved for the use that we’re putting it there for.”
The village doesn’t plan to weigh in on the back-and-forth between residents and the property owner, said Jud Kurlancheek, the village’s planning and zoning director.
“The Village Council approved the plan with conditions, and we are waiting for the applicant to submit his building permit,” Kurlancheek said.
Commity uproar over chain stores entering certain communities is not uncommon. Walmart received approval to build a superstore in Midtown Miami after years of debate between supporters of the store and residents who opposed the plan.
The Village of Islamorada, in the Florida Keys, also had issues with a proposed Walgreens, and chain store retailers in general, and passed an ordinance that limited the size of “formula retail” stores. Developers made a deal to bring a Walgreens to an Islamorada property, but they pulled out after unsuccessfully protesting the village’s law.
The property owners sued and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted damages and struck down the “formula retail” portion of the village ordinance.
Beber said she doesn’t know what steps she and her fellow residents will take next, but she hopes that their actions so far have sent a message.
“At this point, the only thing to do is let Walgreens know that we don’t want Walgreens there,” Beber said.