Florida Keys News
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Assisted living on agenda tonight

Final plans for an assisted care and senior living center at Key West's Truman Waterfront have been unveiled, but questions linger about the stop-start project, now in the hands of a new development team.

The Truman Village Senior Residential Community will provide a mix of 100 independent living and assisted living apartments, according to a presentation developers will make to the Key West City Commission tonight. No action will be taken on the proposal at the 6 p.m. meeting, but commissioners will be asking questions.

"My goal is to build assisted care, and most of my coalition wanted to do that," said Ed Swift, a founder and board member of the Lower Keys Assisted Care Coalition, a local nonprofit that holds a lease on the land until December, and which has spearheaded the drive for assisted care housing in Key West. "I think we have accomplished that. The location is a good location."

The developers, Wendover Housing Partners, propose paying the city $500,000 at closing of financing and the start of construction. Wendover then proposes a 50-year lease. At the start of year 11 of operations, according to the proposal documents, Wendover would begin paying the city $15,000 per year.

Property taxes would be paid on the property, the proposal says. That's an important consideration because the location -- within the Tax Increment Financing district -- means a portion of those taxes will be put back into the specific community to meet other needs and goals.

Among the questions that haven't been answered are some raised by City Commissioner Clayton Lopez, in whose district the project is located.

"Overall I am still supportive of the plan," Lopez said. "I don't think it's realistic to expect Medicaid to pay a rental or housing subsidy in a number of cases."

Lopez also wants to know what provisions are being made to give preference to local residents for employment, especially people living in Bahama Village.

The green light for a project such as this was flipped on in 2007 when 65.3 percent of voters approved leasing "real property of approximately four acres at the Truman Waterfront to a qualified operator or management company ... for a period of 99 years for the exclusive use as a mixed-income senior citizens assisted living and independent living facility."

The lease to the coalition was a place-holder, intended for replacement once that organization found a lease-holder that would meet city approval.

Last year developer Rick Dover won city approval for negotiation. But commissioners balked at giving a $1 per year lease for 99 years to a profit-making firm. Instead, they offered Dover a 49-year option, which he said would not fly with his investors. While those talks were ongoing, Dover's undisclosed history of a federal conviction loosely related to the Savings and Loan scandal decades ago was a topic of public discussion. Dover bowed out.

Some commissioners -- Tony Yaniz among them -- have questioned whether the Truman site is in the best interests of the city or the project.

Swift said it would be difficult to find a better one.

"Everybody talks about putting this somewhere else but free land, an absolute necessity, there is not a lot of that, not a lot of acreage floating around in the Florida Keys," Swift said. "This will integrate assisted care and senior living into the community. A lot of the people who will be in senior living are getting around in the community now, driving cars, riding bikes, and they are as able as anybody. The folks in assisted care will need assistance, they are not fully ambulatory. But if you stuck these folks out by Stock Island, at the convalescent center there, it would not nearly be as good as what we have. I am of the opinion we shouldn't take and hide our old people out behind the dump."

jdesantis@keysnews.com

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