The City Commission on Tuesday night approved a plan for a 96-room hotel in the Key West Bight neighborhood, despite neighbors' and commissioners' concerns about parking and traffic.
Commissioner Jimmy Weekley, who represents the bight area, was the sole vote against the project. He sided with a group of neighbors who opposed it because of parking and traffic concerns.
"I understand their concerns. We are already feeling those impacts every day," Weekley told The Citizen after the vote.
The residents said they were horrified by the potential amount of increased traffic and called the number of rooms "scary." Richard Curry, who lives across the street from the hotel property, argued that "traffic is already out of control."
"When is enough, enough?" Curry asked. "The project is too large for the area."
Commissioner Mark Rossi questioned developer Pritam Singh about where employees would park and threatened to vote against the plan. Singh and Rossi traded barbs for several minutes, with Singh calling the project "very difficult and hard" and admitting several aspects, including employee parking, still needed to be resolved.
Rossi finally agreed to vote in favor of the plan after Singh agreed to provide off-site employee parking.
Singh reminded the commission that the property has vested rights that call for 101 units.
"The plan's impacts will be radically less," Singh said. "It was a very densely used piece of property."
Singh has seven years to develop the hotel or he could lose development rights on the site, on Caroline Street where Jabour's motor court once stood. The previous owners purchased the property from the Jabour family and planned to turn it into upscale vacation rental condos. However, the project was delayed years and eventually went into foreclosure. The property fell into disrepair and was the source of many complaints.
Also on Tuesday:
• The commission gave initial approval to an ordinance allowing residents to keep boats and trailers in their yards. The boats and trailers have to be licensed and properly registered. The commission did not set a maximum size limit for boats; they just have to fit in the yards.
Commissioner Teri Johnston raised concerns about vacant lots turning into de facto boat storage sites. She called on Key West police and code enforcement to enforce the ordinance equally citywide and "to make sure it is not complaint-driven."
The ordinance still needs a second reading and approval before it becomes law.
• The commission postponed voting on part of a redevelopment project for Peary Court, which had military housing but is now being rented out to civilians. White Street Partners LLC developers are buying the property from Southeast Housing LLC, a corporation comprising a public-private partnership of the Navy and the development company Balfour Beatty.
Commissioners were to vote on a proposal that would have allowed 48 affordable housing units to be placed on Peary Court, but postponed it because staff advertised the proposal as allowing 8 units per acre, but it would actually allow 9 units per acre.