NEPTUNE BEACH, Fla. – A debate has been growing in Neptune Beach over what to do with the former Kmart property.
The store went out of business about two years ago. Now, many residents believe the vacant building is an eyesore, and a developer wants to build five three-story apartment buildings with 199 units, as well as retail space.
But there’s strong opposition from residents who complain it’ll take away from the Neptune Beach's small-town feel.
It's a hot topic because with half of the former shopping center empty, it is the largest vacant property in Neptune Beach at this time. The property is privately owned with 88,000 square feet of retail, commercial and restaurant space.
Another reason is because it's right around the corner from the city's largest intersection, Atlantic Boulevard and Third Street.
"Having the housing, an apartment complex, would be amazing," Janet Grimes, who supports the proposed apartment complex, told News4Jax on Tuesday.
Renderings from the developer who wants to put in the 199 apartments, restaurants, bars and retail stores show what the bare strip mall could look like.
"I think that's a little much for this area," said Steve Hill, who's opposed to the proposed apartment complex. "It would be overcrowded."
There's strong opposition on social media. There's a Facebook page with nearly 1,000 members, including Neptune Beach resident Clyde King.
"The concept of having apartments behind out neighborhood is frightening," said King, who's opposed to the plan to build the apartment complex. "It's traffic. It's density, quality of life, our property values."
King argues the apartment buildings could add as many as 750 new residents and cars in a city of 7,500 people. He points out that without special permission, the area isn’t zoned for an apartment complex.
"Not at this location. I can tell you that," King said.
He and others would rather see an upscale retail center.
"Restaurants, maybe a bar," King said. "Make it a destination."
TriBridge Residential principal Katherine Mosley said her company wants the development to be to be a good fit for Neptune Beach, offering to build a pedestrian crosswalk to the beach, trails and improve the sewer system.
"We have really tried to listen to the community and are really trying to offer a lot of benefits that go outside just the proposed development," Mosley told News4Jax by phone on Tuesday.
As for what's next, the city attorney for Neptune Beach wants the developers to submit all of their necessary paperwork. The Community Development Board will review it, make a recommendation and send it over to City Council members, who will have the ultimate vote on yay or nay.
On Tuesday, News4Jax also spoke with Neptune Beach Mayor Elaine Brown and City Councilman Rory Diamond. They said they were gathering facts on the proposal and were waiting for all the necessary documents to be submitted before making comments.
The development team hopes to start construction in 2019, with a 2020 completion date. To see more of the plans, read frequently asked questions or contact the developer, visit www.500atlantic.com.
The same developer has put in other apartments in the area, including the Cottage at North Beach in Atlantic Beach and BluWater in Jacksonville Beach.