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Proposed Keys Shopping Center Could Include Housing

Mike Mozart
Wikimedia Commons

Developers want to build what would be the biggest shopping center in the Florida Keys — 335,000 square feet — on the site of a former Rockland Key junkyard.

Walmart has signed a letter of intent to be the anchor tenant, and the store would probably employ about 200 people. The shopping center as a whole would employ 600.

Which leads to this question: Where are those workers earning retail wages supposed to live in the expensive Florida Keys?

One partial solution could be adding apartments upstairs over the stores at the shopping center, said Owen Trepanier, a planner for the project.

"We have an opportunity to build about 200 units out there," Trepanier said. "We have some obstacles to that, of course."

Those obstacles include re-zoning the property for residential use and winning approval from the Navy, which has an airbase nearby on Boca Chica Key.

Affordable housing makes sense for the developer, both for added income and to benefit tenants who would have an easier time finding employees, Trepanier said. The biggest obstacle to building affordable housing in the Keys is the cost of the land, which is in limited supply with high demand.

"Here we have the land. It's already being paid for in association with the commercial development," Trepanier said. "So these units, the cost of these units, are essentially land-free."

Developers plan to include a 5,000-square-foot community center, which they would lease to Monroe County for $1 a year for 10 years and have agreed to buy a new bus for the Lower Keys Shuttle system, Trepanier said. The center would also serve as an intermodal transportation hub.

Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.