Florida Keys

Key West raises parking rates to $3 an hour to help affordable housing

Key West parking rates are rising.
Key West parking rates are rising.

Metered parking spots in Key West will soon rise a buck to $3 per hour in a plan city leaders say will raise $1 million a year for affordable housing projects and new programs to reduce congestion on an island that draws more than two million tourists each year.

City commissioners decided in a 5-2 vote last week to increase the hourly parking rate after some heated debate in a town where parking spots are sacred to residents, downtown workers and visitors alike.

“We’ve got to start somewhere,” Mayor Craig Cates said before voting with the majority at Old City Hall and adding that at first glance he was against the increase.

“I’ve changed my mind. It’s worth trying,” Cates said of the planning department’s idea to raise the meter cost and put 40 percent of the increase into the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which right now is funded only by bed-tax money.

The same commission earlier this year tapped $12.5 million to pay a developer buying the Peary Court complex to deed-restrict the homes as affordable workforce housing under the city’s rent formula.

About a quarter of the extra hourly bucks will go to create alternative transportation programs aimed at reducing the number of cars downtown.

Commissioners Margaret Romero and Billy Wardlow were against the increase.

“We're killing the local people that live here,” Wardlow said.

Planning Director Thaddeus Cohen, who presented the plan sponsored by Commissioner Jimmy Weekley, said the market rate for street parking is $4 an hour.

Sanibel Island’s parking lot rate is $4 an hour, and so is street parking on South Beach.

Cohen said locals will get a new break on parking near Duval Street as a compromise with the increase.

Locals who have a residential parking permit sticker on their windshield, a $10-a-year sticker, may park free for up to four hours at three specific locations once the rate goes to $3 an hour: The new fire station on Angela Street, the historic seaport lot off Caroline Street and the city’s parking garage on Grinnell and Caroline streets.

Key West didn’t give a start date for the $3 rate. As for tracking locals’ free four-hour parking, Parking Manager John Wilkins said at first the city will enforce it by chalking tires.

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen