What, if anything, should the city do to limit the spread of COVID-19 on New Year’s Eve, when shoulder-to-shoulder crowds congregate throughout downtown Key West?
Do nothing and let personal responsibility dictate behavior? Cancel all outdoor events? Implement a 10 p.m. curfew? Position security monitors in each block to enforce the mask mandate?
All of the above were mentioned in a recent online survey seeking public input about potential protective measures to keep Key West “open and safe”on New Year’s Eve.
The Key West City Commission meets at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 3 to discuss their New Year’s Eve options. See keysweekly.com for updates from the meeting.
Some 1,300 people responded to the survey over three days, with the mixed results mirroring the division in town, often pitting business owners and working residents against wealthy retirees and government employees whose incomes have not been affected by the pandemic and its associated closures.
“We had a very good balance between bar/restaurant and general community members (who responded to the survey). In that sense, the survey represents the community at large very well,” said Elisa Levy, the city’s strategic planning consultant.
“There was an almost even break between the two extremes. ‘Doing nothing’ was 19.88%, while a ‘10 p.m. curfew’ received 21.89%. This is indicative of the community overall right now. We are divided — evenly split between shutting the event down and keeping it wide open with no rules. Most people fell somewhere in between.
“The four options that got the most support were: Increase monitors and security to enforce mask rules for people walking (42.47%); cancel all outside events (42.19%); close off Duval to move people outdoors (38.43%); encourage outside dining (32.25%).
Outdoor events include Sushi and the pirate wench drops. Sloppy Joe’s already canceled its conch shell drop, Levy reported.
In addition to the New Year’s Eve discussion, the Dec. 3 commission agenda also includes a coronavirus update from the health department at the start of the meeting and a COVID discussion by the mayor as the final agenda item.
New sightseeing vehicles?
It’s been years since the city of Key West considered any requests to add new sightseeing vehicles to the city streets. But a local businessman wants to do just that.
Blake Feldman, who owns The Green Room bar, is seeking approval to operate up to 21 “Beer Bikes,” under the business name Pedal Party Shuttle.
You’ve seen the vehicles in other cities — pedal-powered mobile bars. The vehicles Feldman is proposing for Key West — 15 14-seaters and six seven-seaters — are solar- and human-powered, with users pedalling on each side and a mobile “bar’ in the center. The company would be known as Pedal Party Tours, according to documentation submitted to the city.
Sightseeing tour operations have been an issue for the city in the past.
Key West was ordered in 2010 to pay an $8 million settlement to the owners of Duck Tours Seafari, which successfully sued the city in the late ’90s, claiming its sightseeing franchises with Historic Tours of America violated antitrust laws. Historic Tours of America also paid Duck Tours an undisclosed settlement amount.
Following the Duck Tours lawsuit and settlement, the city agreed to hold a public hearing in October of every even-numbered year to determine whether it’s in the public interest to issue additional vehicle-for-hire licenses, City Attorney Shawn Smith reminded the city commissioners in a Nov. 10 memo.
In making that determination, the commission will consider the number of existing vehicles-for-hire; whether existing transportation is adequate for the public need and the probable effect of increased service on local traffic conditions, Smith’s memo states.
Bahama Village housing
Key West lawmakers will discuss changes to zoning laws that would allow for more affordable housing to be built on a six-acre parcel at Truman Waterfront. The development has been discussed and debated for more than a decade and no decisions have been finalized.
The city commission will hold yet another affordable housing workshop in January to determine what’s possible and most beneficial at the Truman Waterfront property.
Mayor Teri Johnston reminded the commissioners last month that government-funded housing programs will not allow for residency discrimination, meaning the city would not be able to designate those units for current Bahama Village residents.
“If that’s the expectation, and I believe it is, then we need all the facts,” said Johnston, who also wants the city to hire a housing director “so we’re not doing this in bits and pieces that take 13 years.”
Vice Mayor Sam Kaufman has also suggested that the city consider options for home ownership at that waterfront parcel, while Commissioner Mary Lou Hoover pointed out that the nonprofit AH Monroe has already successfully built more than 200 housing units.
“Have we considered partnering with AH Monroe?” Hoover asked last month. “Let’s not reinvent the wheel when we have people in town who have already done this.”
The zoning change would increase the allowed density to 40 units per acre at the Truman Waterfront property.
The new zoning district “will allow for high-density affordable, affordable workforce and market rate housing at 40 dwelling units per acre and neighborhood oriented non-residential uses,” planning director Katie Halloran wrote. “The new zone shall expand the Bahama Village community and link Historic Bahama Village with the Truman Waterfront. The zoning district shall provide open spaces linked with multimodal green ways, public access to Truman Waterfront, affordable housing, neighborhood retail, social services, and historical and educational nodes that shall serve as an extension of the neighborhood fabric of Bahama Village.
See keysweekly.com for the results of the Dec. 3 city commission meeting.