Vacant village-owned lots at the corner of Gardenia Street and Woods Avenue on Plantation Key await development. Islamorada Village Council members agreed on Jan. 14 to send the matter to the Achievable Housing Committee to garner recommendations on how to move forward. 

Back in May 2017, the village purchased lots at the corner of Woods Avenue and Gardenia Street through a warranty deed and payment of $393,709. Village planning staff subsequently determined that eight units of deed restricted affordable housing could be accommodated on the Woods corner lots. Council approved a resolution in October 2020 extending the reservation of those unit allocations for development of affordable and employee workforce housing. 

The village also secured Gardenia Street lots for just over $1.3 million. Village planning staff determined that nine units of deed restricted affordable housing could be accommodated, and council approved a resolution in December 2019 to reserve the allocations. 

A request for proposals for housing development services for Woods corner lots commenced in January 2018. A few months later, council adopted a resolution approving an evaluation committee’s recommendation that the proposals received from Habitat for Humanity of the Upper Keys and Leben Family Limited Partnership. In July 2019, council approved a resolution approving a proposal received from Royal Crest Companies for Gardenia Street lots, but the village did not enter into any agreements with the developer for services. 

In April 2019, the village council approved a 99-year ground lease with Carysfort Homes LLC, a subsidiary of the Leben Family LLLP, to develop and finance eight workforce/affordable housing units on the Woods Corner Lots. The lease stated that if construction had not started by December 2019, the parties would enter into a termination agreement. Through a letter dated Jan. 6, 2020, Seth Lawless, the village manager at the time, terminated the lease. 

Leben continued to submit a site plan and other documents for review by the planning department. Lawless directed that the Planning Department proceed with review of the site plan and other submissions, but the lease was not reinstated. Acting Village Manager Maria Bassett advised Leben that she had directed the planning department to suspend its review of the site plan and that the issue would need to be brought back to the village council for additional direction because the lease had technically been terminated and/or expired. The acting village manager did not want the developer to continue incurring review and other costs without a valid lease in place. 

“In conference with Ty Harris as the development services director, we felt the best approach is to just start over, go ahead and put out a new RFQ (request for qualifications) and try to find a specific developer potentially for both areas,” Bassett said. 

“Knowing we have these 300 units coming from the state for affordable housing, those are specific for rentals. Our thoughts were to suggest that we get proposals for building maybe standalone units for sale. Alternatively, certainly council could direct that we could work with the Achievable Housing Committee and go ahead and put an RFQ, but work with them and see what sort of development we would want to specify for those properties.”

Councilman David Webb said he had recommendations that council turn it back to the Achievable Housing Committee.

“I think that might be the best place to start,” he said. “These properties are already here and I agree with Maria that we should do something with them, and I think they (the committee) might help us with the best determination.”

Councilman Mark Gregg, who’s a former Achievable Housing Committee member, said they’re highly qualified and motivated. 

“This is exactly the kind of job we need to task them with and give us the advice,” he said. “We don’t know if we want to have rentals, sales, attached or detached. They’re the best qualified group to help us make those decisions.”

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