COUNTY STILL CONSIDERING PROPERTY SWAPS & SWEARS IN NEW COMMISSIONER

Judge Ed Scales swears in County Commissioner Jim Scholl, with his wife Jolene holding the Bible. KRISTEN LIVENGOOD/Keys Weekly

The county commission meeting on May 18 saw more discussions than decisions about potential property swaps between Monroe County and the city of Key West. But commissioners did vote unanimously to increase the county’s maximum building height from 35 to 40 feet to aid with elevation and floodplain requirements.

County commissioners agreed to move forward and continue discussion about trading the county-owned Higgs Beach for part of the city-owned HAWK Missile site on Government Road.

The Higgs Beach complex is in the heart of the city, and there’s no reason for the county to own it, County Commissioner Craig Cates has said. Meanwhile, the county-owned airport needs a portion of the city-owned and largely empty HAWK Missile site for environmental mitigation. 

Also, the now-empty Bayshore Manor on College Road has become a hot commodity. 

Key West officials were hoping the county would let them use Bayshore Manor as a temporary homeless shelter while the city rebuilds its existing shelter, which is farther down College Road on sheriff’s office property.

Key West City Manager Patti McLauchlin told the county commissioners they would likely need Bayshore Manor for 18 to 24 months once construction begins at the current shelter, which is still in the design phase.

Unbeknownst to McLauchlin, Supervisor of Elections Joyce Griffin wants to move her election office from Whitehead Street in Key West to Bayshore Manor, and is already storing some election and voting equipment in the facility.

Griffin said she has outgrown her current office space and her tabulating machines need better air-conditioning and less humidity than her current location. 

“Bayshore is a wonderful location for voters. It’s closer to more people for early voting than downtown Key West. College Road has the sheriff’s office, the schools and the hospitals and is more accessible to people on Key Haven, Stock Island and Big Coppitt,” Griffin said.

The timing is tricky, though.

Griffin can’t move until January 2023, after this year’s elections. And Key West won’t need a temporary homeless shelter for another eight to nine months, McLauchlin said.

Commissioner Holly Raschein said it seemed like a no-brainer to install the election office at Bayshore. The commissioners then directed county staff to help the city find a suitable temporary shelter location.

The commissioners did decide against using part of Key West’s old diesel plant at Truman Waterfront as a senior center due to the potential $12 million price tag.

Assistant County Administrator Kevin Wilson suggested that the county find a location that’s more accessible to more county residents.

In other news….

Officials are considering an alternative public transit service that would serve Stock Island residents who work in Key West at no charge to the riders and hopefully reduce vehicle traffic in town. 

They heard a presentation from the Freebee service that operates in Islamorada and other South Florida communities. Various options are available and a pilot program could help tailor the options. A state grant would likely fund half of the estimated $425,000 annual cost for the first three years, and the city and county would split the difference. No decisions were made, but discussions continue.

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Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.