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Publix hoping to build ‘upscale’ supermarket on island in Orchid

Photo: Photo illustration: How Publix might be sited; NOT what the building would look like.

For the second time, Publix has approached the Town of Orchid to discuss building an “upscale” supermarket on the north barrier island, eyeing a 7-acre property on the north side of 510, adjacent to historic Jungle Trail and just outside the gates of Orchid Island Golf and Beach Club community, which makes up virtually the entire town. 

When Publix, a Florida-based company founded in 1930 and currently one of the 10 largest-volume supermarket chains in the country, first floated the idea of a store in Orchid several years ago, the proposal was summarily shot down by the Town Council.

This time around, the response has been more positive since Publix approached Town Manager Noah Powers early last month and word began to circulate.

It is Powers’ understanding that Publix has a purchase contract for the property, which is owned by Orchid resident and long-time Vero Beach businessman and auto dealer Ken Puttick.

“We don’t have details,” says Ofstie, “but clearly they have been talking.”

Shortly after Powers’ meeting with Publix reps, Orchid Mayor Harold Ofstie sent newsletters to the 440-plus Orchid residents, informing them of the preliminary discussions. 

Ofstie says he’s received no negative response so far. In fact, several residents with whom he has spoken directly say a market on the north barrier island would be welcome – but only if it was appropriate to its surroundings and did not diminish the island lifestyle.

“We haven’t received a full presentation yet,” Ofstie said. ”The discussions have been more general. Publix is still doing its due diligence. [So far] we are very positive about it.”

Powers says the proposal seems like a good fit – a commercial development on commercially zoned property – but emphasized there are several criteria that will have to be met, to ensure the project  fits seamlessly into the aesthetic of the community and does not diminish residents’ quality of life.

One long-time Orchid Island homeowner who asked that his name not be used says there will certainly be  concern about any possible negative impacts such a highly-visible project might have on the tony country club community, including  lighting, signage, buffers, landscaping, parking, building design and traffic.

Ofstie doesn’t foresee increased traffic on the Wabasso Bridge; in fact, since island residents would no longer have to cross the bridge to shop at the mainland Publix on U.S. 1 at 53rd Street as many now do, there could well be less bridge traffic.

In addition to Orchid, other communities along A1A, such as Windsor, north of Orchid, and John’s Island to the south, could benefit from the convenience of a nearby market on the island, said Orchid Island Realty broker Scott Oberlink, noting the store would need to have a smaller footprint than a typical Publix, more along the lines of Publix’s newly redesigned GreenWise markets.

Premier Estate Properties broker associate Cindy O’Dare sees a market for the north barrier island as a good idea “as long as it looks like it belongs, in keeping with the surrounding environment.” O’Dare mentioned Palm Coast and Coral Gables as examples of locations where Publix has designed its markets to fit into upscale surroundings.

Premier Estate Properties broker associate Bob Niederpruem also sees the idea as “a positive thing” as long as it fits into the “fashion of the community, the British West Indies architectural style.”

Making certain the building and parking lot lighting are visually appropriate and not an annoyance to neighbors is vital, he stressed.

The property has long been a bone of contention between the Town and Puttick who, since 2011, has tried several times without success to get the Town’s approval for projects on his land.

In 2011, he proposed building 40 courtyard homes, but the Town nixed the re-zoning needed to do a residential project. In 2016, Puttick tried to push through an upscale senior living facility but, after detailed presentations, lengthy discussions and ultimately, litigation, his plans were again thwarted.

So far, things are looking more hopeful this time around.

Ofstie told Orchid Island residents that if Publix decides to go ahead with the store, “we anticipate having a workshop/presentation to the Town Council of their proposal prior to the end of the ‘season.’ As with all of the Council’s meetings, residents will be welcome to attend.”