COUNTY STALLS ON ACCEPTING THE ‘1,300’ - A close up of a book - Illustration

There’s potentially a boatload of affordable housing units coming from the state to Monroe County, discussed at a meeting of the Board of County Commissioners May 10 and again at the May 16 meeting in Key West.

But not everyone is on board, and it was said several times that the devil’s in the details, which have yet to be released. No official stance was taken by commissioners.

Assistant County Administrator Christine Hurley traveled to Tallahassee on May 15 to meet with Department of Economic Opportunity staff about 1,300 new building permits for workforce housing throughout the Florida Keys.

County Attorney Bob Shillinger told commissioners Hurley was unable to make the May 16 meeting but spoke on her behalf.

“It’s up to us if we want to participate and what parameters would be placed on the units. They look forward to working with us to understand how we can fine-tune it to our specific needs,” he said.

“It sounds to me like none of our questions were answered,” said Commissioner Heather Carruthers.

The commissioners went back and forth for more than an hour about whether to accept the units, with the tone being mostly geared toward all the reasons the county should not accept them.

Those in favor of the units cite them as a possible solution to the Keyswide dire housing situation. Those who oppose the move say it will be impossible to evacuate so many residents in a reasonable time should another hurricane head for the Keys.

The need for timely evacuation of residents from Monroe County is part of the reason development is restricted in the first place.

“The real issue is quality of life and how many people can this fragile chain of islands hold?” said Carruthers.

“We all know if we build on every lot in this county, I doubt there is a person in this room who would want to live here. We are facing some rather large issues,” said county Mayor David Rice at last week’s meeting. “Is this helping after the hurricane or setting a precedent for providing an unlimited number of permits by the state instead of coming up with their share of this huge cost we will have as a result of the ROGO?”

He was talking about what will happen when there is no more development allowed in the Keys after 2023, and who will pick up the tab for potential “taking” lawsuits as a result of the state-mandated ROGO, the rate of growth ordinance.

“Bob, have you and Christine been lying to us about this liability we’re facing in 2023?” asked Commissioner George Neugent.

“No,” Schillinger said. “I think if you go back and look at all the tapes you’ll find plenty of instances when I tell you not every person who has a vacant parcel will have a valid takings claim. We may have to defend suits and believe we’ll be victorious in many of them.”

Carruthers asked whether the county has to accept the 1,300 units.

“They’ve asked us to express the position,” Schillinger said.

“If there is any way we can take these we should take them,” Neugent said.

The commission agreed last week it will be a long time, possibly years, before the 1,300 units are available to municipalities, seeing as how each will have to amend its comprehensive plan to allow for them.

The county has 555 unallocated affordable housing units and 1,000 market-rate units it can distribute. The various municipalities such as Village of Islamorada and City of Marathon also have some, but not as many. It’s a challenge to know exactly how many affordable units are needed — developers request the building rights but some are returned to the county if the deal falls through.

DEO also will submit its 2017 Florida Keys Area of Critical Concern Annual Report to the Cabinet at its June 13 meeting.

“We can stand in support, stand in opposition or stand silent and let the municipalities take their own course,” Shillinger said.

Katie Atkins is a western New York native who, when not working, can probably be found on the beach with her nose in a book. Sweets are her weakness (10 fillings this year), along with pizza and her adopted senior cat, Buddy.