Two sides to 1,300-unit coin - A group of people standing in a parking lot - Florida Keys
This is one of four structural insulated panel homes (SIPs) going up on Big Pine Key by the Florida Keys Community Land Trust as part of the solution to the affordable housing shortage. CONTRIBUTED

There’s potentially a boatload of affordable housing units coming from the state to Monroe County, discussed at an impromptu meeting of the Board of County Commissioners Thursday.

But not everyone is on board, and it was said several times that the devil’s in the details, which have not been released yet. 

The BOCC meeting was set up after Gov. Rick Scott last week directed the Department of Economic Opportunity to allow 1,300 new building permits for workforce housing throughout the Florida Keys. 

Those in favor cite them as a possible solution to the Keyswide, dire straits housing situation. Those who oppose the move say it will be impossible to evacuate so many residents in a reasonable amount of time should another hurricane head for the Keys. 

The need for timely evacuation of residents from Monroe County is part of the reason the development is restricted in the first place.

“We all know if we build on every lot in this county, I doubt there is a person in this room who would want to live here. We are facing some rather large issues,” said county Mayor David Rice. “Is this helping after the hurricane or setting a precedent for providing an unlimited number of permits by the state instead of coming up with their share of this huge cost we will have as a result of the ROGO?” 

He was talking about what will happen when there is no more development allowed in the Keys in 2023, and who will pick up the tab for the lawsuits as a result of ROGO, the rate of growth ordinance. 

It was put in place in 1992 as a projection of how many people will live in the Keys by 2023 and how safely all can be evacuated in the event of a hurricane. 

The commission agreed it will be a long time, possibly years, before the 1,300 units are available to municipalities, seeing as how each will have to amend its comprehensive plan to allow for the units. 

The next hurricane model will happen in the 2020 census, which will determine whether there has been a change in residency or road improvements to allow for more building units. 

The county has 450 unallocated affordable housing units and 1,000 market-rate units it can distribute. The challenge lies within the fact that some developers request the units and never use them, at which point they’re returned to the county.

County staff will travel to Tallahassee for a Tuesday, May 15, meeting to discuss the initiative with DEO staff and ask questions based on comments from the commissioners and public speakers.

BOCC will discuss the issue again with county staff input from that meeting with DEO staff, at its next commission meeting Wednesday, May 16, in Key West.

DEO also will submit its 2017 Florida Keys Area of Critical Concern Annual Report to the Cabinet at its June 13 meeting.

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  1. REMARKS TO MONROE COUNTY COMMISSION MTG AT 1100 ON 10 May 2018 by Capt Ed Davidson,
    Chairman, Fla Keys Citizens Coalition

    As former Chairman of the Florida Keys Zoning Board and Compre-hensive Plan Drafting Committee when those were re-constituted under the Critical Concern designation, I have been involved in protecting the Quality of Life in the Florida Keys for many years – and was first to propose the present ROGO system of gradual, controlled development and preservation of Community Character in our neighborhoods.

    I later filed the Endangered Species lawsuit in federal court that kept 35,000 new people and 3 billion dollars worth of condos and hotels out of K Largo on the shoreline of Pennekamp State Park.

    Most recently during my service on the Florida Keys School Board, I represented School System interests on the County Affordable/Workforce Housing task force, which produced many valuable findings that all Keys governments should be referring to often.

    Governor Scott’s proposed 1300 new Affordable/WorkForce housing unit permit gesture is deeply flawed, highly politicized, and violates many binding legal guidelines established by Citizen Group participation in public process, and there are far easier ways to work on providing more Affordable/WorkForce Housing much sooner:

    First, all Keys governments should aggressively stop the already illegal Vacation Rental epidemic that has consumed a significant percentage of former residential housing stock. As an example, my own dive shop customers this summer will often be renting local houses with docks for $2000-$3500 a week, turning neighborhoods into commercial housing. And most of those private owners are not paying the 12.5% hotel and sales taxes that licensed properties do.

    Secondly, the widespread illegal AirBnB conversion of residential homes in residential zonings into commercial hotel functions should be stopped as well, as these offenders often also do not pay hotel and sales taxes of 12.5% into the local economy as licensed hotels do to compensate for their use of public services.

    Thirdly, the conversion of trailer/RV parks into condo developments, and/or the transfer of their development rights and densities off site, should be prohibited henceforth because they were historically given 400% of the allowed density of any other zoning category, granted back in earlier times for RVs only when Sunshine Key was the 1st Hol Inn RV park in the U S A.

    Fourth, the use of hundreds of existing ROGO permits to build more multi-million dollar McMansions for the rich should come to an end, mandating virtually all 1000 market rate County permits for Affordable/Workforce Housing instead.

    Fifth, the Navy should be heavily lobbied to re-activate several hundred unused base housing units to thus reduce military use of civilian housing that could be occupied by Workforce families instead.

    Note that none of this requires major new construction, or the violation of existing government regulations and binding legal constraints – which, as so many public officials seem to have forgotten, are the result of many years of Citizen Input and Public Process, and legal challenges filed and won by groups of citizens safeguarding the Community Character of their neighborhoods.

    And there would be major, quantifiable, and seriously expensive impacts on public services by adding another 1300 dwelling units beyond our already over-stressed carrying capacity.

    Based on my recent 4 year election to the Florida Keys School Board, I would point out that much of the local workforce tends to have families of multiple children who place greater demands on health care, public services, and transportation capacity. Since our schools currently educate about 8,300+ students, it follows that:

    1 child per each family would add 1300 students – a 16% increase
    2 children per family would add 2600 students – a 31% increase
    3 children per family would add 3900 students – a 47% increase

    Note well that the new schools built in recent years have cost 37-39 million taxpayer dollars each, and house roughly 600-700 students. So even only 1 child each for 1300 Affordably-housed families would require taxpayer funding for nearly 80 million dollars worth of new schools, since most of our existing schools are mostly full! Plus, adding another 1000 to 2000 vehicles to morning and afternoon traffic in the vicinity of schools as those workers deliver and retrieve their kids from school would add seriously unwelcome congestion to road traffic.

    Speaking of traffic, the official calculations of hurricane evacuation times already dramatically undercount the probable number of evacuees by virtually ignoring RV occupants, as well as not counting nearly any residents of the many, many thousands of ground floor enclosures. And most of those uncounted families with teen-agers will put 2 cars on the road out of the Keys, not just 1.

    To put this poorly thought out Governor’s campaign proposal in context, it is important to remember that roughly 25 yrs ago, Keys Citizens Groups won a lawsuit in which the judge ruled that the environmental carrying capacity of the Florida Keys had already been exceeded ! The then-Governor and Cabinet recognized that by funding the 6 million dollar “Florida Keys Carrying Capacity Study” (twice-reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences), the findings of which all units of governance in the Keys were required to incorporate into their Comprehensive Plans – making the Carrying Capacity Studies the foundation of all Growth Management, many of the doctrines of which are in fact legal stipulations in settlement of lawsuits and policy debates that Citizens won and Politicians and Development interest lost.

    Such findings and provisions cannot be swept aside by simplistic political campaign rhetoric, or a simple majority council or commission vote on a passing afternoon, without the complex public processes required by law — and without extensive public opportunities for citizens to safeguard the community character of their neighborhoods, in which they have invested their life savings, and regarding which they have stronger “development rights” than intruding commercial real estate interests.

    Pursuant to which government officials in the Keys are in receipt of a recent cautionary statement about these issues by long time citizen group attorney and Nova University law professor Professor Richard Grosso, who will be making more contributions to this dialog on our behalf in the near future.

    Capt Ed Davidson, Chairman
    Florida Keys Citizens Coalition

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