An amendment related to vacation rental licensing in the village of Islamorada and a renaming of the emergency operations center inside Fire Station 20 in honor of the former vice mayor were unanimously approved in what was the final meeting for current council members.
A special meeting called on Oct. 8 was conducted in a hybrid format, with council members inside the Founders Park Community Center and staff and the public tuning in virtually. Council proceeded through a short agenda by first approving the second reading of a text amendment to land development regulations and policy related to transient rental use of residential property. Specifically, the amendment allows properties within the residential high or mixed use future land use map categories to apply for vacation rental licenses using the 2007 assessed values through the 2022 licensing period, assuming they comply with all other rental regulations.
Village staff said the modification applies to properties that previously applied and received a vacation rental license, as well as those properties applying for the first time. Per a village staff analysis, village ordinances authorized the village to use the 2007 assessed property values through the 2019-2020 vacation rental licensing period. According to the current regulations, each vacation rental unit must assess in excess of 600% of the median annual income for Monroe County.
In 2007, the median annual income for Monroe County was $62,500, so each unit must assess in excess of $375,000. This exemption expired Sept. 30, which would require staff to then use the 2017 assessed values for the upcoming 2020-2021 vacation rental licensing period. The median annual income in 2019 for Monroe County was $83,000; therefore, the unit must assess in excess of $498,000.
Of the 110 existing licensed vacation rentals within the village, staff compared the assessed values from 2007-2008 to the 2019 assessed values and found that 33 properties have returned to the pre-recession values. Staff compared the assessed values for 2019 to the minimum assessed value based upon the 2019 median annual income required to register a vacation rental license and found that only 69 of the existing 110 would be eligible for a vacation rental license.
The Local Planning Agency recommended council approval of the proposed ordinance on July 13. The dais followed up three days later to approve first reading during a July 16 meeting.
Village Attorney Roget Bryan said regulations give property owners who have used property as legal rentals the ability to continue to qualify through the village’s regulation process. Bryan noted that the state has preempted local ability to regulate vacation rental for the last several years. Current regulations allow for 331 vacation rental licenses in the village.
“This is a very significant topic statewide and it begs the question of what is appropriate in what community,” he said. “Regulating at a state level for what’s good for a certain community may not be in the best interest of the village. This ordinance, which was heavily litigated in the early 2000s before it went into effect, really does strike in staff’s opinion the best possible balance between allowing and renting vacation rentals within the community as well as maintaining community aesthetics and community character through common sense regulations.”
Councilwoman Deb Gillis said there are several areas of the Keys that wish they had similar restrictions.
“Could it be better? Probably. Should it be changed? Probably. But what we have is better than nothing. I think it’s important to keep this in place and try to work within it just to correct what we can,” she said.
Village council also approved a resolution to extend the building permit allocation system reservation for the Woods Avenue affordable housing project. In May 2017, the village purchased four lots on Woods Ave and Gardenia Street on Plantation Key to develop workforce and affordable housing. Those lots were purchased for $400,000. The village hired an engineer to conduct survey work, and determined that eight single-family units could be built.
Acting Village Manager Maria Bassett said the village passed two resolutions since May 2017 to set aside eight units for the project, but the last resolution reserved units through June 30, 2020. The resolution council approved on Oct. 8 extended the reservation out through Oct. 31, 2021.
“That expiration date coincides with the reservation of nine affordable units for the other (affordable housing) location at 292 Gardenia St.,” Bassett said. “At this time, working through understanding where we are with our attempts and efforts to develop those properties, I received a call back from DEO (Department of Economic Opportunity) from their workforce housing division, and they may actually have some funding opportunities they wanted to talk to me further about.”
The two affordable housing projects will go before the new council for consideration, Bassett said.
At the request of Mayor Mike Forster, council unanimously agreed to name the village’s emergency operations center in Fire Station 20 in honor of the late Ken Davis, who served council following his election in 2018. Davis, who served as vice mayor this year, passed away last month after suffering heart failure and massive stroke. Calling him a “passionate and successful leader,” Forster proposed placing a plaque inside the station where emergency personnel enter to perform critical roles.
“He loved Islamorada and he loved the fire department,” said councilman Jim Mooney. “I think it’s a wonderful thing.”
Council said “yes” to canceling the Oct. 22 meeting since there are no time-sensitive matters to come before the dais leading up to November, when newly-elected members convene. It was the last meeting for Forster and Mooney, who are seeking other offices; Chris Sante, who isn’t seeking re-election after filling the rest of Cheryl Meads’ term; and Gillis, who’s terming out.