Key West city officials had plenty on their plates for the Nov. 3 city commission meeting, which started with a surprise presentation for Jimmy Weekley to celebrate the city’s purchase of the Key West Historic Seaport 29 years ago. (Story on page 30.)
The commissioners then heard several updates about important topics. So here goes:
First, the great cruise ship debate: City Attorney Shawn Smith told the commissioners he and City Manager Patti McLauchlin had met the prior week, individually, with representatives from Safer Cleaner Ships, Pier B and Caribe Nautical ships’ agents.
“We had some very productive conversations and we now have a better understanding of where each group stands,” Smith said. “We may break up the mediation process into individual subjects.”
In the meantime, the city is still seeking an outside attorney to help draft, and then defend in court, the ordinances that would finalize the city’s new cruise ship size limits.
Smith was scheduled to meet Nov. 5 with a Fort Lauderdale attorney, who was reviewing some of the city’s documentation and checking to see if he has any conflicts of interest.
“This will be a dual path, as we’ve discussed,” Smith said. “We’re talking to the groups involved while also drafting the ordinances.”
Smith has repeatedly warned the commission that imposing the cruise ship limits on the privately owned Pier B will likely prompt a pricey lawsuit against the city. Those concerns eventually prompted Commissioner Sam Kaufman to propose formal mediation among the involved groups.
Smith also updated the commission on the city’s Charter and District Boundary Review Committee, which is drafting suggested changes to the city charter and its voting district boundaries. Commissioners are in the process of looking at the district boundary changes and making suggestions.
At the Nov. 3 meeting, Commissioner Sam Kaufman asked that the City Marina at Garrison Bight remain in District 2, while Commissioner Billy Wardlow wants Go Lane to remain in his district. The new housing to be developed at Truman Waterfront will be part of Commissioner Clayton Lopez’s District 6.
Then it was McLauchlin’s turn to report to the commission. She started with Fantasy Fest.
“I was downtown with Chief Sean Brandenburg Friday and Saturday nights, walking the 100 through 800 blocks of Duval Street,” McLauchlin said. “I truly believe we had a very successful Fantasy Fest. Even without the parade and street fair, our businesses were happy. I do think it’s time to rethink and revamp Fantasy Fest and see what this community wants.”
She added that she had not received a report yet from the health department about any uptick in COVID cases that resulted from the crowded week in Key West.
Kaufman suggested a workshop that would enable officials and stakeholders to discuss the future of Fantasy Fest. He also commended McLauchlin and her staff for skillfully managing so many items and projects.
McLauchlin reported that the commissioners on Tuesday, Nov. 16 will be able to select a developer to build the long-awaited workforce housing on the last 3.2 acres of Truman Waterfront.
The commission on Dec. 7 will consider plans for the city’s new Sidewalk Cafe program. The outdoor dining initiative started as a result of COVID, but met with tremendous success and support from local restaurant owners, who want to continue it indefinitely.
McLauchlin reported that the engineer working for Santa Clara Condominiums, which faces significant structural concerns, had submitted to the city copies of his bid documents that will select a contractor to begin the extensive repairs to the building. Bids are due Dec. 7, McLauchlin said.
In other commission news…
Officials unanimously approved a resolution denouncing youth violence and committing to do more to prevent it.
“How are we answering the needs of young people who aren’t necessarily asking for help?” Lopez said. “There are red flags that we’re turning a blind eye to. I’ve done it myself, and too many young people are no longer with us today because someone missed one of those flags or unwittingly contributed to a violent response.”
The city will work with Grieving Families of Youth Violence, the group founded by Phyllis Jackson, whose son was killed by youth violence.
Statewide legislation surrounding liveaboard vessels continues to draw criticism and concern. The city commission supported the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission in undertaking a survey of Key West liveaboard vessels to have a valid number of boaters before passing legislation aimed at regulating sewage pump-out and ridding the waters of derelict vessels.
“We need the data, not just for the numbers, but to develop the best regulations for derelict vessels and our managed mooring fields,” Kaufman said.
On a related topic, a fence surrounding part of a beach area next to the Marriott Beachside Hotel continues to be a source of dispute among liveaboard boaters, who can no longer access the area with their dinghies.
“That is an illegal fence on public property,” resident Christine Lininger told the commissioners during the public comment period. “It’s in your job description to stand up for the people of the city of Key West and not just for Robert Spottswood and his hotel property.” Spottswood owns the Marriott Beachside Hotel at the entrance to Key West.