To the Editor:

Now that the city has established cruise ship policy at Mallory Square and the Outer Mole, public attention is on Pier B, the busiest of Key West’s three cruise terminals. Pier B Development Corporation is now seeking permission from the city to berth cruise ships up to 1,100 feet long, 349 days per year. If they succeed, traffic at Pier B will increase 40% over its busiest year ever, and Key West will see larger ships than ever before.

These new negotiations are focused on a 1994 agreement called the “Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions for Pier B.” The Weekly recently described this Declaration as “inescapable” and warned readers that “any attempt to limit ships at Pier B would result in a crippling lawsuit.” (Editor’s note: These remarks are from news coverage of City Attorney Shawn Smith and outside counsel Ed Pozzuoli’s comments about Pier B; the Weekly did not make the statements independently.)

This claim is simply not true. In fact, the city’s 1994 declaration has no bearing at all on the modern cruise port built by Pier B Development Corporation five years later, in 1999.

As most of your readers understand, agreements regarding real property refer only to specific parcels of property with clearly defined boundaries. If I buy a house on White Street, I become the owner of that parcel and that parcel only. I do not also own my neighbor’s house. Rather, my ownership ends at the property line, which is officially recorded by the property appraiser’s office.

The same is true for business interests. If the city authorizes me to operate a 100-seat restaurant in a building I own on Duval Street; and five years later I decide to lease a different building across the street, my rights do not automatically extend to my new leasehold. No. Instead, I must go back before the city and prove that I have met the code and other conditions before I am allowed to operate in my new location.

The key thing to understand is that Pier B is actually made up of two separate parcels of land — what I call “historic Pier B” and “modern Pier B.” Historic Pier B was built by the Navy around the time of World War I. It is about 305 feet long and it is owned by Pier B Development Corporation.

When the city signed the Declaration of Covenants for Pier B in 1994, it only authorized activities on this specific parcel of property, located within the perimeter of historic Pier B. That parcel and perimeter are clearly visible on the website of the Monroe County Property Appraiser’s office and in the building plans reproduced here.

Five years after the declaration was signed, Pier B Development Corporation built a new cruise ship facility just west of historic Pier B, on submerged lands it leases from the state. The main pier at the modern Pier B facility is 485 feet long, 180 feet longer than the historic pier; and its supporting structures are up to 620 feet away from the historic pier. In fact, the entire modern Pier B facility is built outside of the specific parcel controlled by the 1994 Declaration.

Pier B Development Corporation could have negotiated a new agreement with the city at that time. They could have asked the city’s permission to operate in their new location, just as any business owner who has acquired new property could. But they did not. The city never authorized cruise ship operations at the modern Pier B facility, neither by the declaration nor by any other agreement.

The city has clear authority under Florida Statute 313.22 to regulate cruise ships in its port. And the city is free to establish guidelines for modern Pier B without violating the Declaration of Covenants, because the declaration applies to a different piece of property.

So why is the city negotiating terms which represent larger ships at Pier B, and more of them, when the voters so clearly want smaller and fewer ships?

The city should use its legal authority and the weakness of the declaration to hold Pier B Development Corporation to sensible limits on cruise ship operations. There is no justification for creating a new agreement which would give new rights to Pier B Development Corporation where none now exist, and allow larger cruise ships than Key West has ever seen.

Arlo Haskell

Treasurer, Key West Committee for Safer Cleaner Ships

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