Florida Keys News
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Habitat home unwelcomed by neighbors

PLANTATION KEY -- The Village Council said no to Habitat for Humanity last week, but in the process staved off a certain backlash from residents of the Plantation Lake Estates neighborhood.

At issue was a request to build an affordable home on a lot on the edge of the gated community that sits directly across the Overseas Highway from Founders Park.

Donated to the village for the purpose of habitat conservation under the town's Building Permit Allocation System, a third of the lot is disturbed, while the remainder contains high-quality hardwood hammock.

That made it the least environmentally sensitive of the three properties that Habitat had requested the village consider donating to it for the construction of a home.

The donation would have put to use a 2005 change in village code relating to lots donated to the town through the Building Permit Allocation System.

Because development is strictly limited in Islamorada, owners seeking to build a home on one property sometimes donate lots they own elsewhere in town in order to gain extra points in a ranking system the village uses to determine who gets to build first.

Traditionally, the village has set aside those lots for conservation. But with the market then booming, and reasonable housing becoming scarce, town officials changed the rules nine years ago to allow for affordable housing on the donated lots as well.

News that the council was to consider gifting the Plantation Lake Estates lot to Habitat set off a maelstrom among residents there. They filled the meeting hall on April 11, and in a letter-writing campaign to village officials ahead of the meeting, many expressed concern about using a lot donated before the code was changed in 2005 for anything other than conservation.

"It was retired from development. Period," wrote Kris Friedman, who went on to say that dozens of other less environmentally sensitive lost are available in the village.

A couple of Plantation Lake Estates property owners, however, came out directly against affordable housing in their neighborhood.

"It is well known that the level of ownership of a home determines the level of caring for the home and it's (sic) upkeep," wrote Kadee Della Donna, a California resident who owns two undeveloped lots adjacent to the property Habitat sought. "If I had wanted to build custom homes next to a dump, I would have purchased different land."

One deed-restricted affordable home, in fact, already exists in Plantation Lake Estates. The 1,975-square-foot house, at 310 North Drive, was completed in 2002 and is valued by the Monroe County Property Appraiser at $309,000.

Donna, having made the cross-country trip, was among those at the Founders Park Community Center last Thursday. But before any Plantation Lake Estates property owners even spoke, council members made it clear that they wouldn't turn the lot over to Habitat.

"I don't want to cut into the hammock we already have," Vice Mayor Deb Gillis said.

"Every lot that is donated to the village needs to stay within the village and shouldn't be used for anything else," added Councilman Ken Philipson.

The council instead instructed the planning department to asses whether other village lots could be more appropriately used for affordable housing.


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