Florida Keys News
Saturday, February 15, 2014
County to talk build out
ROGO, Florida Forever grants on agenda

The Monroe County Commission on Wednesday will discuss what to do once the Florida Keys reach build out.

The county's concerns stem from the possibility of having to buy vacant lots from owners who had hoped to one day develop their land but may never be able to because of a lack of state-issued building permits.

The fear is that if the county does not purchase the land, the owners could sue the government agency in what is known as a takings lawsuit.

Last year, the state Department of Economic Opportunity, which oversees development in the Keys, agreed to a plan that allocated 10 years worth of development rights to the Keys.

But once those 3,550 allocations -- called Rate of Growth Ordinance or ROGO units -- are used, the Keys will have essentially reached build out, according to county Growth Management Division estimates.

State law dictates that the Keys can only build to a level in which the chain of islands can be evacuated 24 hours prior to a hurricane making landfall. When the Keys uses the 3,550 units, it will have reached the 24-hour mark, according to Christine Hurley, Growth Management Division director.

There are 11,364 vacant private parcels in the entire county, including the cities. After the 3,550 permit allocations, there would still be a projected 7,814 vacant private parcels remaining, whose value in 2013 was $317 million, Hurley said.

On Wednesday, commissioners will discuss various funding options for the purchase of the vacant properties and vote on a $50,000 contract with Trust for Public Lands.

Under the contract, the trust would hold public meetings throughout the Keys and conduct opinion polls to find out how people feel about using public money to buy private land. Its research would gauge community support on using sales tax revenue, county Tourist Development Council funds and/or property tax funds to purchase conservation land. The trust would then issue recommendations on finance strategies, county biologist Mike Roberts said.

The Trust for Public Lands has worked with 450 state and local governments to acquire $34 billion worth of conservation land since 1996, according to the group.

Also on Wednesday, the commission will discuss going after state Florida Forever funding for the purchase of the vacant properties, as 7,193 of the properties contain federally listed endangered species or their habitat, and 3,100 of the properties are highly ranked for Florida Forever funds by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Florida Forever requires a 50 percent match from local governments, so the county could spend as much $8.1 million under one possible financing scenario. However, the $8.1 million expenditure could be spread over several years.

The commission has been discussing the build out issue since July. County officials admitted that not all the owners of vacant property would sue the county if they weren't allowed to develop their land, but they wanted to be prepared.

"Some future commission will have to deal with this, but we need to start looking at this now," Commissioner Danny Kolhage said.

The commission meeting begins at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday at the Murray Nelson Government Center in Key Largo.

tohara@keysnews.com

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