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Orchid residents overwhelmingly oppose Publix shopping center


Orchid residents are overwhelmingly opposed to plans to build a Publix shopping center in a southwest corner of the seaside town, according to the board of the Orchid Island Community Association.

In a digital survey of the town’s homeowners, 221 of the 255 respondents – a whopping 87 percent – opposed the project, while only 14 (6 percent) favored it, the association said. Twenty homeowners, or 7 percent of the respondents, said they were “neutral.”

The board of the association, in announcing the survey’s results in an email to Orchid homeowners, said it intended to support the “majority view” of the community, and encouraged residents to “make your opinions known” to the members of the Town Council and Local Planning Agency.

The Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club’s board of governors earlier voted unanimously to oppose the proposed development and urged the Town Council to do the same.

In an email to club members, the board wrote that the project is “nowhere near compliant” with the town’s current zoning and code requirements, which were put in place to “assure a development that was compatible” with the Orchid community.

The board stated that the proposal was “completely out of character” with the town’s feel, quality of life and natural surroundings.

Homeowners at Old Orchid and The Seasons at Orchid – neighboring communities located just outside the town limits – also are opposed to Publix’s plans to build a 31,000-square-foot supermarket and a 6,000-square-foot retail building containing five stores.

The survey of Orchid homeowners was conducted after Publix representatives held a “town hall meeting” in Orchid on Jan. 16, where they presented their plan and answered questions from the audience, which asked about the requested variances and waivers, as well as potential problems with noise, light, traffic and operating hours.

“I’m aware of the survey and I have my own feelings, but I can’t comment because, in these quasi-judicial hearings, the Town Council members are essentially jurors and are supposed to keep an open mind,” Orchid Mayor Harold Ofstie said.

Both the Town Council and the Local Planning Agency are required by law to hold quasi-judicial public hearings before voting on Publix’s proposal.

“In an ideal judicial world, we wouldn’t see any survey or commentary before that hearing,” he added. “In fact, at our last council meeting, we passed a resolution stating that we will not allow any input we might receive before the hearing to be prejudicial to the matter being considered.

“But it’s a little goofy to think, in a small town like ours, you won’t be impacted one way or another.”

Besides, Ofstie said, the results of the association’s survey – as well as the opposition expressed by residents of the neighboring communities – almost certainly will be raised at both the Town Council and LPA hearings.

Ofstie said he believes Publix representatives are aware of the strong opposition. Asked if the supermarket company might decide to abandon its plans, he replied, “That’s a very reasonable question.”

If Publix opts to move forward with its plan, Ofstie said, it’s unlikely the Town Council will hold its quasi-judicial hearing until next month.

“Having spoken with our town manager, I’d say it’ll be later rather than sooner – no earlier than March, and it could be as late as April or even May,” Ofstie said. “We want to get this done before people start leaving for the summer.”