Let’s take a look at gas stations in the Keys

When it comes to bringing new businesses into the Keys, there are a whole lot of rules in place.

Emily Schemper, Senior Director of Planning and Environmental Resources for Monroe County, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM yesterday to talk about issues facing the county.

A citizen has requested to speak to the county commissioners about the proliferation of gas stations in the county.

Schemper said, “There is a sounding board item at 10:30 regarding gas stations and the land development regulations that go with those. There’s no action taken by the board. It’s just an opportunity for a member of the public to talk about some things that they were thinking about.”

There are not specific regulations for gas stations. There are not codes saying a station can be at a certain spot, but not at another spot.

Schemper said, “The way they’re regulated is through the commercial retail regulations and that’s mostly relying on the number of trips going in and out of that retail site and that categories the retail based on the intensity of use.”

Low intensity is considered less than 50 trips a day per 1,000 square feet of building area.

A medium intensity – which is the vast majority of the retail uses in the Keys – would generate between 50 and 100 trips a day per 1,000 square feet of building area.

High intensity will be more than 100 trips a day per 1,000 square feet.

Schemper said, “These are things like fast food restaurants, places with drive-throughs and gas stations are almost always high intensity and that’s because the building is so small, but they still have a lot of customers coming in and out.”

High intensity categories almost always require a higher level of review, possibly even going to the planning commission.

Schemper said, “We do have five community master plans throughout the unincorporated county, so in addition to our general land development regulations, we have these master plans. They were developed through a series of public meetings, a lot of public input a number of years ago and they’re adopted into our comprehensive plan, so they do have legal weight as policy documents.”

Some of those disallow very high intensity retail in specific areas.

Schemper said, “One example of this would be what’s called the downtown Key Largo overlay. That’s where Atlantic Boulevard and US 1 cross. It actually disallows very high intensity uses, 150 trips per 1,000 square feet. We did have a gas station apply to go into that overlay a few years ago and it was denied because it’s not allowed there. That is one example of a way to regulate gas stations even more without specifically saying gas stations aren’t allowed.”

Too much development can put a strain on resources.

Monroe County has a tier system to try to direct development into the tier that is least environmentally sensitive.

Schemper said, “We limit how much habitat you can clear, especially when you’re in the more environmentally sensitive tier. That applies to all development, not just commercial retail or high intensity. We have a whole list of regulations. There’s things about light, noise, litter. These are all aimed to lessen the impact of the uses, provide for safety and make things more aesthetically pleasing. Our US 1 is the scenic highway and we actually have what’s called a scenic highway corridor buffer yard that’s required when you’re in one of the US 1 areas that has more vegetation to begin with, you have to keep that. Even if you’re going to put a store up and you’re allowed, you have to keep that vegetative buffer along the front.”

The sounding board allows citizens to request to speak to the County Commissioners. The commissioners are not required to take any specific action, but an issue can be brought up at a later time.

Citizens are allowed to apply for changes to the regulations. There is an application on the website.

Schemper said, “It’s a pretty expensive application and it’s a pretty hefty process, a lot of public input, takes quite a bit of time, has to go back and forth to the state a couple of times. It’s not a small undertaking, but it’s important that someone who is proposing changes to our regulations has really done their background research and is really committed to what they’re proposing because we don’t want to just be making changes left and right based on one concern that comes up here and the next day it’s something different down at the other end of the Keys.”

For next week’s agenda, click here: http://monroecountyfl.iqm2.com/Citizens/Detail_Meeting.aspx?ID=1172