Grocer to create ‘unique to market’
store in Manalapan
Rendering provided by Cuhaci & Peterson
By Dan Moffett
After a year of impassioned negotiation and ample planning, the arranged marriage between Publix and Manalapan appears headed for the altar.
A short list of design changes from representatives for the supermarket giant persuaded town commissioners to unanimously approve plans for a 26,000-square-foot store in the middle of the Plaza del Mar shopping center.
Publix and Manalapan. Manalapan and Publix. Together at last.
Matt Buehler, retail vice president with Kitson & Partners, the plaza’s landlords, told commissioners the company was building its store specifically with Manalapan in mind. He said extensive renovation of the site would revive a shopping plaza that has languished for years.
And the centerpiece would be the stylish new Publix.
“The grocer is creating a unique store to this market that does not exist in its portfolio today,” Buehler said. “It’s not a stock set of plans that came off the shelf. This is a uniquely designed store that will not exist anywhere else in the country.”
Kitson’s proposed overhaul includes planting 37 royal palm trees, adding two pocket parks and a drip irrigation system, installing LED parking lights, and repaving the entire plaza. Kitson had offered to create an outdoor seating area for roughly 100 people, but dropped the idea when several commissioners objected, fearing a potential nuisance.
The plans go to the town’s architectural committee next. Demolition could begin in October, with construction underway by the first of the year. The Publix is expected to open for business in 2018.
Two skeptics on the commission, Basil Diamond and Simone Bonutti, voted to support Kitson after coaxing concessions from the landlord during three hours of debate at the July 19 town meeting.
Diamond and Bonutti had worried that the store would create traffic bottlenecks on the corner of Ocean Avenue and A1A, disturb neighbors with noise and pollution, and pose safety problems with large delivery trucks driving through the parking lot.
“My concern is the site plan itself,” Diamond said. “Does it make a negative impact on the plaza and the community?”
Buehler said Kitson was willing to build a continuous 8-foot concrete wall along the western and southern boundaries of the property to screen neighbors from delivery vehicles.
Engineers for the developers told the commission that the renovation actually will decrease the total amount of retail space at the plaza by about 20,000 square feet. The plan would also increase the setback area on the south side by about 35 feet, adding to the buffer zone with homeowners. Engineers said the project complies with all town codes and building rules.
Kitson withdrew plans to add a separate liquor package store near the Publix after complaints from several commissioners at the June meeting. Buehler said the two-story tower in the heart of the plaza will be removed, opening the skyline view for neighboring residents.
Robert Rennebaum, a traffic engineer with the West Palm Beach firm of Simmons & White, told commissioners the completed project would “meet all applicable standards.”
Rennebaum said the new Publix figures to generate 615 fewer trips per day — about a 15 percent reduction — than the current limits on the property. “It’s not even close to capacity,” he said.
Mayor David Cheifetz and Diamond pointed out, however, that current traffic to the plaza falls well below the limits because of underperforming businesses. So, while adding a Publix may not exceed theoretical traffic standards, in the real world, it is virtually certain to draw more cars to the site than go there today.
Buehler assured commissioners that Kitson has the expertise to manage vehicle and foot traffic to the new store: “We do have shopping centers throughout the state of Florida. We’re shopping center experts.”
He said typically, no more than two or three large delivery trucks would be going to the supermarket each day. “There’s not going to be a superhighway going through the center of that shopping center,” he said. “They’ll go to the back of the store, be hidden, then get the heck out of Dodge and nobody will be the wiser.”
The path of the expanded north-south delivery access road will force out a half-dozen businesses, among them Jewelry Artisans, Manalapan Italian Cuisine and Jeannie’s Ocean Boutique. Kitson has given the merchants until Sept. 30 to relocate.
Cheifetz, who as mayor has no vote, said he would have voted to approve the project if allowed. He commended commissioners for “a job well done” in protecting the interests of the town and working to improve plans for Manalapan’s largest commercial project in decades.