Florida Keys

New workforce housing in the works for the Keys — but some are worried it’s too much

Destroyed trailers at the Seabreeze trailer park along the Overseas Highway in the Florida Keys on Tuesday, September 12, 2017.
Destroyed trailers at the Seabreeze trailer park along the Overseas Highway in the Florida Keys on Tuesday, September 12, 2017. Miami Herald File

A plan to build from 300 to 400 new units of affordable housing in the Florida Keys within two years was endorsed last week by Monroe County commissioners as part of Hurricane Irma relief.

However, a list of potential building sites was shortened and softened after Lower Keys residents objected to developments that could run contrary to the county’s comprehensive land-use plan for the rural area.

“Workforce housing makes sense but we don’t want high-density apartment complexes,” Stuart Schaffer of Sugarloaf Shores told commissioners at their meeting in Key Largo last Wednesday

Main parts of the approved proposal include seeking $20 million in state funding to acquire land including “trailer-park properties and other sites for affordable housing” and trying to obtain $34 million in money and development incentives to build complexes for workforce housing.

The plan also would tap an “under-utilized” building fund financed by the county’s tourist-development tax for a limited time. Additionally, the Monroe County Land Authority was authorized to shift more efforts into finding developable sites for replacement housing.

“We’re not adding new bodies. We’re moving bodies to a different place,” said Commissioner Heather Carruthers, who took the lead on the housing plan.

Hurricane Irma, which hit the Keys as a Category 4 on Sept. 10 , revealed the extent of “underground living situations” where several people shared a single residence or lived out of a recreational vehicle that now has no place to park and boats that sank, Carruthers said.

“We’re going to lose the people who make this community work. We’re already doing that,” she said.

Potential building sites could include the former Marathon Manor nursing home, “six to nine trailer parks” and sites in Key West and Stock Island.

The “Shrimp Farm” property on Summerland Key was stricken by commissioners from the list since development of the site is opposed by many nearby residents, and may be zoned as largely unbuildable.

“Preliminary damage assessment results were presented that show 4,156 structures throughout Monroe County were either destroyed or suffered major damage due to Hurricane Irma,” a county report says. “These numbers do not include a full accounting of lost mobile homes which served as full-time residences.”

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206

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