Only three county commissioners were present for the July 15 vote that approved the county’s abandonment of a portion of Laurel Avenue on Stock Island to enable developers of the Wreckers Cay project to build 280 housing units that will include workforce housing.
The project is located behind CVS and Murray Marine on Stock Island, just off U.S. 1.
County Mayor Heather Carruthers and Commissioner Craig Cates reused themselves from the vote.
Commissioners Michelle Coldiron, David Rice and Sylvia Murphy voted 2-1 to approve the abandonment, with Murphy dissenting.
Prior to the vote, eight residents of Stock Island and Key West spoke against the road abandonment measure, reminding commissioners of the county’s commitment to preserve public access to public waterfront areas. Two speakers also reminded the lawmakers of the Hickory House restaurant purchase that effectively eliminated the public’s water access on that property.
“Just because you have the legal right to do this doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do,” resident Tom Milone told the commissioners.
Key West resident Christine Russell didn’t mince words.
“Developers will lie through their teeth to get what they want,” she said. “If this question was put to the voters, how would they vote? Please represent them and do what’s right.”
“Stock Island has been eaten up by people with money. How can we do this to our citizens,”
Murphy said, seeking a way “for both sides to get what they want.”
Attorney Bart Smith, representing the developers, reminded the commissioners that the project’s development agreement is contingent on the road abandonment.
County planners told the commissioners the proposal complies with county rules and regulations because the portion of the road to be given to the developers does not terminate at open water.
“But we have taken everything from Stock Island,” Murphy repeated before voting against the abandonment. “I love everything else about this project. The only part I object to is this little part of water.”
Commissioners Rice and Coldiron echoed the concerts of the residents and the Stock Island community and pledged to identify additional county land resources to provide public water access. Coldiron also pointed out that the Wrecker’s Cay team has agreed to provide the public access to the water with reasonable rules and hours of operation.
“I can appreciate everything Commissioner Murphy said, and I agree it’s important to protect Stock Island and invest more into it as a community, but we also hear constantly the need for workforce housing near the employment centers, and that’s Stock Island,” Coldiron said. “I believe this will provide our residents with a nice place to live.”
Rice and Coldiron also pointed out that the developers’ plans include improvements to the area that has been a source of trouble for the county sheriff’s office, given the challenges of vagrants, drugs and other criminal activity in the area.