Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
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Resort still faces hurdles

ISLAMORADA -- Despite numerous regulatory challenges, a Fort Lauderdale-based firm is pushing forward with efforts to develop a 40- to 70-unit resort called Islamorada Ecolodge on Upper Matecumbe Key.

Representatives of the developer EDSA first met with the village planning department in March 2012 to discuss the project. But a year later, the company has made little progress and still must face a regulatory minefield before making the resort a reality.

First up would be changes to the village's comprehensive land-use plan and its land development regulations to create an Eco-Sustainable Lodging designation. The designation, as proposed by EDSA, would allow properties with that designation to build up to 10 units per acre in the tourist commercial zoning district. At present, the village only allows six units per acre in that zoning category.

EDSA initially submitted an application for those changes in August, then revised the application in February. Once the Planning Department has weighed in on the requests, the proposals will go before Islamorada's Local Planning Agency, and then in front of the Village Council for approval.

Senior Village Planner Kevin Bond said the time frame for those steps is uncertain.

"I'm just trying to get it done. That's all I can say," he said.

EDSA officials did not respond to repeated phone calls from the Free Press for this article.

Islamorada Ecolodge, which would be located at mile marker 83, would contain five guestroom buildings, as well as a spa, a main lodge, an office building and five worker housing units, plans show. All told, the buildings would amount to approximately 60,000 square feet.

In documents, EDSA says the lodge would have a variety of environmentally friendly elements. The company plans a water reuse system, green-certified building construction and solar electrical generation on the site.

They're also proposing to clean out and expand the site's hardwood hammock. They say they'll improve stormwater drainage on the upland portion of the property in order to rehabilitate a degraded wetland closer to the water's edge. And they've proposed revegetating the property's sand berm.

Pushing through changes to the village's comprehensive plan and its land development regulations are just the start of what EDSA must accomplish in order to build the lodge, however. A more daunting challenge will be obtaining development rights for the proposed resort. State growth regulations cap the number of hotel and motel rooms in Islamorada at present levels.

Last year, Florida's Department of Economic Opportunity did award 100 additional lodging allocations to the city of Marathon. And the village planned to begin its own push for extra allocations when officials traveled to Tallahassee on Tuesday, April 23, for Florida Keys Day, Village Manager Ed Koconis said. However, even if the units come through, EDSA would have to compete with other Islamorada hotel properties for the allocations.

Zoning complications could also be an impediment for the company. The would-be resort property is currently zoned native residential, meaning it is allowed just one unit per four acres. EDSA wants the site to be rezoned tourist commercial so the resort would be able to take advantage of its proposed Eco-Sustainable Lodging designation allowing for 10 units per acre.

According to its website, EDSA has been involved in development projects around the world, including the renovation of the Casa Marina Resort in Key West and master planning for the Angler's Club in North Key Largo.

rsilk@keysnews.com

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