Voters now get final say on Stock Island building height increase

BY PRU SOWERS

KONK LIFE STAFF WRITER

The question of whether to allow 40-foot high buildings in an area on Stock Island will now go to the voters.

Key West City Commissioners voted, over the objection of Commissioner Margaret Romero, to approve a final reading of an amendment to the city’s land development regulations. Because it is a zoning change, local residents must approve the amendment and they will get the chance to say yay or nay in a special election on March 13.

The three city-owned parcels on College Road have been proposed as the location for a new affordable workforce housing development. But to attract potential developers – who are used to constructing high-profit, market rate housing – city officials say they need to increase the number of potential units that can be built, thereby increasing the profit margins for builders. Currently the height limits on the parcels are 25 feet. By increasing that to 40 feet, planning officials say, approximately 104 apartments can be built in two-story structures. If the building complex is limited to one story, approximately 70 units could be built, according to Patrick Wright, city planning director.

If voters agree, the height change would apply only to the three city-owned land parcels on College Road, totaling about 2.6 acres. Currently, those parcels are home to the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District offices, the local animal shelter and the former Easter Seals building. Both Mosquito Control and the animal shelter are planning to move to new locations within the year.

Commissioners have long eyed the parcels as a location for affordable workforce housing as well as the city’s homeless shelter, which must move from its currently site next to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, also on College Road.

But Commissioner Romero, at the Feb. 11 commission meeting, said she continued to be concerned that no final decision has been made on whether the city’s homeless shelter would be relocated to the property or not. Mayor Craig Cates has floated an idea that instead of the College Road property, the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter (KOTS) could move into the Monroe County-owned Bayshore Manor, which currently operates as a senior citizen living complex. The Bayshore Manor residents would move into the newly-built Poinciana Gardens, located at 1664 Dunlap Drive in Poinciana Plaza, Cates suggested, opening up the Bayshore building for use as the new KOTS.

Because the initial reaction from Bayshore Manor residents and some county officials to the idea was not positive, it is unclear where the new KOTS will go. In addition, Romero said, she is not comfortable with increasing the building density in the primarily residential neighborhood to 40 units per acre.

“That seems like an awful lot,” she said. “I can’t support it because I have not seen how that 40 number comes up other than somebody threw that number out at a meeting.”

Commissioner Sam Kaufman said city officials have been discussing increasing the density on the College Road parcels for at least three years. The 40 units per acre goal is to maximize the use of the land that’s available for affordable housing, he said.

“It’s not a good idea to stop moving forward because there are some unknowns,” he said.

“This has been a long plan,” added Commissioner Richard Payne. “I’m anxious to get it going.”