KEY LARGO -- Monroe County is considering a proposal that would require, or at least provide incentives for, developers of hotel and retail projects to include housing for their workers when they plan their projects.
County commissioners are concerned that big projects will put a further burden on the county's limited affordable housing pool. The county already requires that new residential projects set aside 30 percent of the development for affordable housing.
Commissioners discussed expanding the requirement to resort and large commercial retail projects when it met late last month to review changes to the county's comprehensive land-use plan, which guides development in the unincorporated areas of the Keys.
The commission's discussion came after the Key Largo Federation of Homeowner Associations sent the county a letter asking that commercial and transient residential developments include affordable housing components.
The federation argued that businesses in the Lower Keys have a greater need for affordable housing than the Upper Keys since they can't bus workers down from Miami, the letter states.
"Hotels, motels and retail businesses require employees to fulfill the needs of their business, and they should be required to at least furnish some housing units to help take the pressure off of the taxpayers to provide affordable housing," the letter states. "A policy is needed to require transient unit development, commercial and retail developments of a certain size to include mandatory affordable housing."
The county would need to data to determine "specific needs, housing values, rents, loss of workers and the need for workers generated by use, type of business and size of development," the letter states.
"The county will need this data to determine the potential inclusionary requirements in the land development code."
County Commissioner David Rice agreed that transporting workers from the mainland is not an option for Lower Keys businesses.
"The solution for them is to put roofs over people's heads," Rice said.
Rice proposed that the county make affordable housing an incentive, not a requirement.
"It might have to be more than an incentive if we are not getting an adequate response over time," Rice said.
County commissioners did not request that specific affordable housing requirements for resort and large commercial developments be put in the county's comprehensive plan.
They did ask staff to include language in the comp plan that states the county will continue looking at the issue, which leaves open the possibility of requiring it through land development regulations, which set up requirements for the development of property.
County staff is currently researching the issue to determine how much affordable housing it should require and for what types of projects, said Mayte Santamaria, a senior county planner.
The commission has mandated the building of affordable housing for commercial retail projects in the past. Last year, it required the developers of a proposed shopping center on Rockland Key to come up with a "mutually agreeable affordable housing requirement" prior to submitting their development application, but the commission did not spell out exactly how much affordable housing they have to provide. The developers and staff are still working on the development proposal.