Florida Keys News
Friday, May 14, 2010
City to weigh in on Wisteria Island

Key West city officials will meet to discuss a proposed Wisteria Island redevelopment project that could bring 35 hotel rooms and 35 homes to the small barrier island.

The island falls under the jurisdiction of Monroe County government, but development of the island, which is owned by the Bernstein family, could tap city police and fire services, utilities and other city government resources.

Plans call for the power and sewer systems to be run through the neighboring Sunset Key, as the family that owns that island, the Walshes, are involved in the redevelopment of Wisteria. Sunset Key can accommodate the sewer and power service for 75 units on Wisteria and the proposed mooring field, project spokesman Bill Barry said.

The 21-acre Wisteria Island, known locally as Christmas Tree Island, will have a fire control system that meets all county codes, including a sprinkler suppression system, fire hydrants and a fire pumper truck and station on the island, Barry said. He could not say whether the county or city fire and police departments would respond to emergency calls on the island.

The city currently responds to emergency calls on Sunset Key, which is required to have sprinkler systems for facilities and a pumper truck stationed there. The city does not keep firefighters on Sunset Key, but they are a five-minute boat ride away, as the department has a boat moored in Garrison Bight.

The closest county fire station is on Stock Island, so Key West firefighters and emergency crews might have to respond to calls on Wisteria Island if it is developed.

County Growth Management Director Christine Hurley and county planner Mitch Harvey met with city Planning Director Amy Kimball-Murley and City Manager Jim Scholl Tuesday and set the meeting for 3 p.m. May 27 at Old City Hall in Key West. The meeting will come two days after the county Development Review Committee meets on the subject and one day after the county Planning Commission meets to discuss it.

The meetings center around a proposed county land use map change that would allow 35 homes, 35 hotel units and docks that would house roughly 35 boats on the island. The county has provided the city with documents that outline the proposal, which also calls for a 116-boat mooring field surrounding the island.

"We appreciate the county reaching out to us," Kimball-Murley said. "We are learning about what's going on right now."

The first phase of the project would be creating the mooring field, which would be supported by a ship's store, fuel docks and other facilities. The Bernsteins are working with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and other state agencies to swap some of their 125 acres of submerged land near Wisteria Island with state-owned bay bottom around the island, which is home to dozens of illegally moored houseboats and sailboats.

The bay bottom swap and the proposed development could take years to complete, if it happens at all, as it will require extensive environmental studies and public hearings.

tohara@keysnews.com

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