Following neighborhood concerns, services provided by Monroe County out of Pearl House of Worship in Islamorada are heading north to Key Largo.
The Board of County Commissioners during a meeting last month approved forwarding a lease of termination notice for the Pearl House of Worship site, located at 161 Pearl Ave. It’s the temporary location for community services in the Upper Keys before a new government complex opens in roughly three years. Commissioners also approved negotiating a lease for the social services office and congregate meal site at the Tradewinds Shopping Center in Key Largo.
Action from the board comes after the village told Assistant County Administrator Kevin Wilson and County Mayor Sylvia Murphy during a March 14 meeting to seek a new location for services. It comes amid concern from those in the neighborhood regarding use of the building and increased traffic.
Wilson told council members the site is used by a social worker who sees 10 to 12 clients. It’s also used as a meal site for qualified seniors to come for a hot dish and social time with fellow community members. Overall, Wilson said, the Pearl House of Worship site on Plantation Key isn’t fully operable service-wise due to some neighborhood pushback.
“Twenty to 25 seniors a day for meal service is the high end,” Wilson said. “They’ll come by bus. (We also) do Meals on Wheels and take them out to people. Those are the kinds of services provided there.”
Councilman Ken Davis said the board isn’t opposed to what they’re doing service-wise, but to the location.
“There are some services you don’t have up and running, and that will provide more ammo for the neighborhood,” Davis said. “You shouldn’t have to hold back. I’d like to see it in a place where people are coming and going 24/7 if you wish.”
Wilson said they chose the site because the county believed they could deliver all services provided at the site — and even better. County Mayor Sylvia Murphy told board members they’re not running a soup kitchen.
“People don’t come off the highway, and I heard from people in that area that came to me and said they think people will come in off the street who will walk all over the neighborhood or steal.” she said. “That’s the furthest thing from the truth.”
Pam Martin, president of the AARP chapter in the Keys, told council during an April 4 meeting that seniors in the lower end of Islamorada won’t be able to make it to Key Largo.
“I wish you would come to the senior center and tell all those folks who eat lunch there every day that you don’t want them to have a location there in Islamorada,” she said. “Social interaction is so important to keep the brain active, prevent depression and it really helps them.”
Councilman Jim Mooney said he heard concerns about traffic and trucks on site. Vice Mayor Mike Forster said the county’s temporary location doesn’t conform to the area that’s zoned residential. Forster told Martin seniors could use the community room at Founders Park. Forster also gave Wilson two possible locations in Islamorada.
“Knowing there was 8,000 square feet of commercial square footage available at a reasonable rate, it made sense for (the services) to come out of a residential neighborhood,” Forster said.“It was totally up to (Wilson) what he wanted to do with that because we weren’t renting space. The county was.
“There are alternatives,” Forster continued. “We just have to find them. We didn’t sit here and say we don’t want to take care of citizens. That’s falsehood. ”