By Mary Thurwachter

The Lantana Town Council approved a change to the comprehensive land-use plan that could pave the way to replace the Kmart-anchored shopping center with apartments.
A petition asking for the 18.6-acre site at the northwest corner of Hypoluxo Road and South Dixie Highway to be changed from commercial to mixed-use development was filed by the center’s landlord, Lantana SDC LLC, represented by Miami attorney Ryan Bailine.
“Big-box stores are dying,” Bailine told the council at its Sept. 23 meeting. “With the rise and convenience of online retail, big-box stores, like the Kmart, are scaling back their brick-and-mortar operations because they are not finding the same type of economic vitality experienced in prior decades.”
The Lantana Kmart has a long-term lease, Bailine said. “But if it does decide to shut its doors, finding another big-box tenant for the Kmart building will be difficult given the current economic climate for these types of uses.”
Bailine said his client sees an opportunity to take the worn shopping center, built in the mid-1970s, and work toward an appropriate mixed-use development project known as Lantana Village.
The conceptual master plan proposes to redevelop the Kmart parcel (other parcels included on the land-use plan change are the shopping center anchored by Winn-Dixie and the northernmost small shopping center) with up to 279 residential units. Three out-parcels — containing Bank of America, Dunkin Donuts, Burger King and a Fuel for Fit — are not part of the application.
The only other mixed-use development project in Lantana is Water Tower Commons, which Bailine said “has been hugely successful in attracting a high-end multifamily developer, which only further demonstrates the town’s unmet need for more multifamily projects.”
The vote to approve a change to the comprehensive land-use plan won by a 3-2 margin, with Mayor Dave Stewart, Phil Aridas and Malcolm Balfour in favor and Lynn Moorhouse and Ed Shropshire against. If the proposal is approved after a second hearing at a future meeting, rezoning will follow.
“I’m hearing about apartments next to a Winn-Dixie and backed up to a railroad track on a busy road, and that doesn’t sound like a place for high-quality housing,” Moorhouse said. “I wouldn’t want a place next to a Winn-Dixie.”
Bailine said the vision is to build a marketplace and multifamily housing with top-notch amenities.
“I’m not an architect, so I don’t know how the site would lay out,” Bailine said. “I do know that there are a number of high-quality builders who are interested. I can tell you that, with your support, we will come back to the town with what we believe is a very thoughtful and code-compliant proposal to redevelop this with a market rate rental community.”
He said a site plan would come up for council approval before any building is done.
“If we change this, we can’t unchange this, and I have no idea what you’re going to put there and neither does anybody in this room,” Moorhouse said.
Shropshire questioned whether the proposal’s scale was reasonably related to the neighborhood’s needs. He also mentioned the town’s increased water usage, wondering if a large rental community would overly tax the town’s utilities.
Stewart said he was concerned about traffic and overall impact. “I am also concerned that the shopping center needs to be updated,” he said. “It is ready for a change.”
In other business, the town:
• Approved a special exception use to the mixed use zoning at Water Tower Commons to allow for a gas station with restaurant and convenience store.
Ken Tuma, representing the developer, said the station would not be accessible directly from Lantana Road but that customers would need to drive into Water Tower Commons to reach it on the southwest corner of the property.
The exception will apply only to mixed-use properties with at least 25 acres. Water Tower Commons has 73 acres.
• Adopted a tax rate for fiscal year 2020 of $3.50 per $1,000 of taxable value — which represents a 6.7% increase from the rollback rate of $3.28. Next year’s total combined budget is $19,988,983.

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