State’s 1,300 units issue sticky for BOCC

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The tangled affordable housing web just got more tangled.

Monroe County commissioners were admittedly perplexed at their meeting in Key Largo on Sept. 19 about the state’s gift of 1,300 affordable housing allocations, 300 of which are allotted for the county to accept or deny.

“This is more complicated and seems to be getting a lot more complicated,” said Commissioner George Neugent.

Key West, Marathon and Islamorada have individually started the mandatory process of changing their comprehensive plans to accept 300 units each, with a combined 100 for Key Colony Beach and Layton. The county has not taken a formal stance on the 300 units yet.

There are two issues commissioners say make the proposition so complicated – what happens in 2023 when there is no more development allowed in the Keys and who will pay for the “taking” lawsuits that will result; and how to enforce the mandatory early evacuation clause included for tenants of the future units.

The reason for the commission’s reluctance is based on the uncertainty of what will happen in 2023, when the state will no longer issue building permits for the Keys. Come 2023, some property owners may have to settle for an affordable right in place of the market rate they may want. Case law suggests that as long as there is some type of “right” associated with the property — whether affordable or market — property owners will not prevail in a “taking” lawsuit.

At Wednesday’s meeting, county attorney Bob Shillinger said, “I can’t say it any clearer; accepting the allocations means fewer takings cases.”

Commissioners also worry the floodgates have been opened for the state to hand down hundreds more units in the coming years, which could result in a “build out” of the Keys, further affecting quality of life.

“For me, it kind of puts all of our parcels on the table for development. The municipalities have already accepted it. Pandora’s box has already opened,” said Commissioner Heather Carruthers.

Assistant county administrator Christine Hurley said the state Department of Economic Opportunity has indicated enforcement of early evacuation is up to the local community.

“It appears deed restrictions would be put on the properties and a rental agreement would contain a separate disclosure that failure to abide could include severe penalties, including eviction,” she said.

Commissioner Sylvia Murphy said it is impossible to make people leave early in the event of a hurricane.

“There is no way you are going to tell people when they’re going to leave, how they’re going to leave, or why. You cannot enforce it, and therefore why do it?” she said.

“This is like chewing taffy,” said Mayor David Rice. “It gets bigger and bigger the more you chew.”

After nearly two hours of discussion, commissioners directed staff to dig deeper into the details of accepting the units for further discussion at a later date.

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