AFFORDABLE HOUSING & PARKING CONSIDERED FOR PROPERTY IN THE HEART OF ISLAMORADA?

An aerial view of the Island Silver & Spice demolition. DAVID GROSS/Keys Weekly

The teardown of the former Island Silver & Spice Department store started last week as loads of debris were carried away. 

With demolition of the structures at MM 81.9 underway come new opportunities for property in the heart of Islamorada that’s in the hands of the village. 

Islamorada bought the property, formerly owned by Walgreen Co., for $2.75 million. With the deal closing last December, village officials must decide the land’s long-term use. 

Discussions over acquiring the property in April 2021 by the village council suggested possibilities for parking, with heavy congestion seen through Islamorada during weekends and busy holidays. Affordable housing, too, came forward as a possibility as first responders and tourist-sector employees struggle to find a place to live. 

Village officials have stressed that the property won’t be used for a gas station or convenience store. 

No decision has come on the property’s intended use. In the short term, officials say the lot will be used for special events parking. A.J. Engelmeyer, public works director, said gravel will be placed in the area where the building stood. No other direction by the council has been given at this point. 

Mayor Pete Bacheler said Acting Village Manager Maria Bassett and he have spoken to Joel Reed of Gorman & Company regarding potential affordable housing. A March 10 council meeting welcomed Reed to discuss the potential for workforce housing. In a presentation, Reed said the Island Silver and Spice property could accommodate 17 units. 

Gorman & Company developed the Wet Net Villas at MM 81.1 in Islamorada. Thirty-six units were built in 2014. Reed said the former Island Silver & Spice site could be mixed-use, with commercial on the ground floor and housing units on the second floor. 

“It’s something we would definitely work through with you all in the community to make sure it’s in line with the community character,” Reed said. 

In the Keys, Reed said, Gorman builds to the 60% area median income. Reed told the dais that renters must have incomes that qualify to live in their units. For instance, two people can’t make more than $49,000. Rents are also capped. A two-bedroom unit wouldn’t cost more $1,337. 

Bacheler told the Keys Weekly that he was still awaiting more details from the group regarding the possibility.

“They have certain timeframes and they have to get things accomplished. We’re too late for anything this year, which disturbs me a little bit,” he said. “I’d like to see somebody come up with a site plan, an estimate and direction on that and see where it would go.”

Lindsay Fast, executive director with Habitat for Humanity of the Upper Keys, said they’re waiting to hear from the council to see what direction they take on the property. 

“Without a doubt we’re following that very closely,” she said. “We’d be 100% interested in going after a RFP or RFQ for the property if that’s the direction they take.” 

The property was formerly home to the Island Silver & Spice Department store. In business for 38 years, the local tropical department’s doors closed for the final time on Dec. 15, 2016. 

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Jim McCarthy is a northerner who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since his graduation from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3 years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. Behind every community is resiliency and resolve in difficult times. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim serves as President of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. “It’s a group that lives by the motto ‘Service Above Self,’” he says. “We’ve done service projects at the Tavernier nursing home, sitting down and socializing with residents. “We’ve also supplied cameras to young students exploring the Keys ecosystem.” Jim loves sports, family and time exploring underneath the water depths.