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Florida Keys News
Monday, October 8, 2012
New comp plan would raise affordability requirements

Last week's approval by commissioners of Key West's new Comprehensive Plan gave the green light to a roadmap for the city's future, although the plan still requires the approval of state agencies.

The City Commission approved the plan unanimously at its regular meeting last Tuesday.

The comprehensive plan, officials said, represents regulations that will direct how the face of the island will evolve in years to come.

A major change involves new requirements for affordable housing.

But some voices question the manner in which the plan was presented and approved, and although there is overall positive support, community activists say a closer look is needed.

"It sets a direction of the way the city is going with development, with land use regulations, maintaining historic districts and growing out without overdevelopment," said Mayor Craig Cates.

Mark Songer, president of the Keys environmental group Last Stand, said his group sees some good in the new plan, but said more public input and time were required to truly reflect the desires of the people.

"There are some positive things there," Songer said. "There was a lot of input on sustainability and climate change ...

It happened really quickly. The first notice we got of it was late in July and we had about a 10-day turnaround to make comments."

Among areas of concern studied for the plan were affordable housing needs, population estimates, land use and a hurricane evacuation analysis. There are no major changes in zoning, including densities, except for the inclusion of a special district for former military housing at Peary Court, which private developers are in the process of purchasing.

Other key elements included rezoning of the Berg and Kitsos conversation areas on Atlantic Boulevard, to be changed from low density residential-conservation to conservation, further protecting them.

Changes in building height have been considered, but not set as of yet. That will depend on further interaction with the county, and will have to accommodate new storm surge and water inundation predictions.

Perhaps the most significant portion of the plan is the announcement that the city will receive 91 new allowable development units per year. Monroe County and the state call them ROGO units, for Rate of Growth Ordinance, and the number of allowabled units is based on the ability to evacuate the county within 24 hours of a hurricane.

To maintain proper evacuation levels, the growth of a city or area in the county is restricted to a set number of housing units.

The important change in the plan is that now Key West will require 60 percent of those ROGOs to be used for affordable housing units. Until now the city has required that 30 percent of any approved development be designated as affordable.

"The good way I see that is there is critical need for affordable housing and having that skewed toward affordable is a good thing," Songer said.

But the mere requirement for affordable housing doesn't mean it will be built, as there will be questions of whether developers can afford to follow the plan, Songer said.

"Nobody is raising their hands saying, 'I want to build affordable housing.'" Songer said, expressing hope that some work might be done in the future to get the city's Housing Authority or some nonprofits to work on affordability issues and create incentives for such construction.

But for now the officials who worked on the 400-plus-page document say they are pleased with the results.

"We have an urban design plan for the first time, a master plan that says how we want the city to look," said Key West planner Nicole Malo. "It will regulate everything from connectivity of bike paths and signage to landscaping. It should make the city a more cohesively designed and better looking place, little by little."

jdesantis@keysnews.com

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