The KOTS issue can always be a headliner at city meetings. The City Commission meeting on March 6 attracted a crowd for a variety of reasons and hosted some lengthy discussions. Mayor Craig Cates started off the agenda bringing up the potential end to KOTS – Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter – on Stock Island. With the upcoming referendum on height limitations on Stock Island, this will set the way for three parcels of land to be developed for affordable workforce housing. But where will KOTS go? The county deadline for the current space is October, but there has been no agreement with the county for an extension of the deadline or a possible go-ahead for using Bayshore Manor. If the current residents of Bayshore choose to move to the newer senior living facility then the Bayshore building could be used.
Commissioner Billy Wardlow agreed with Cates: “This is more of a county problem than a city problem.” Wardlow and Commissioner Sam Kaufman expressed concern over putting KOTS on one of the three designated new parcels. The result would be mixing families with the homeless. Commissioner Margaret Romero wanted to discuss other potential sites and Cates agreed to have that discussion, but not now. All the commissioners want the county to come to the table for a discussion first.
Many passionate residents came before the commission asking that HARC be able to review the recommendation by Chief Building Official Ron Wampler to demolish two of the larger Steamplant buildings. Some in the public have cried foul, citing a lack of leadership, transparency or properly following city ordinances. It should be noted that this is the first time the city commission has been able to review or make decisions about the Steamplant’s future. David Salay, of Bender and Associates Architects, said his company “has restored far worse buildings and the end result would pay handsomely for the city.” Michael Gieda, director of Key West Art and Historical Society, said the society was categorically opposed to the demolition and offered help in procuring grants for rehabilitation of the buildings.
City Manager Jim Scholl said, “The city always intends to preserve within reason and never intended to demolish all the buildings. We understand historic preservation.” The commissioners approved a motion for HARC to independently review the buildings, but the future is still uncertain as HARC’s review in non-binding.
Scholl also informed the commission that Key West was on the short list for hosting America’s Cup preliminary races in 2020 and that $616 million soon will be made available from HUD for Florida that can be used for Hurricane relief and workforce housing, with details for requesting money for Monroe County to come soon. The commission also voted in support of a “March For Lives” rally to take place March 24 in Key West.