Florida Keys News
Thursday, August 21, 2014
Mooring field proposal blocked

The Monroe County Commission withdrew Buttonwood Sound in Key Largo as a possible site for a county-managed mooring field after staunch opposition from residents who live nearby.

"Virtually all of us oppose it," said Steven Hart, who lives in the neighboring community of Sunset Cove. "It's not a good place. It's an environmentally sensitive area."

Buttonwood Sound is home to lush seagrass meadows that could be damaged by traversing boats, Hart said. Also, manatees reside there and they could be struck by boats, he said.

The state of Florida attempted to put a marina in Buttonwood Sound several decades ago, but the neighbors opposed it and filed a lawsuit to stop it. An administrative law judge ruled in favor of the neighbors, citing the environmental concerns, Hart said.

The commission voted 5-0 to abandon the plan to place a managed mooring field in Buttonwood Sound.

The county is looking at placing managed mooring fields in various parts of the Florida Keys as a way to regulate pump out and stop the proliferation of derelict live-aboard boats.

Commissioner George Neugent proposed the waterway in front of Gilbert's Marina on the 18-Mile stretch on U.S. 1 as a possible alternative to Buttonwood Sound.

Mayor Sylvia Murphy raised several concerns with Gilbert's, including it being too far from where people work and shop in Key Largo

"Also, it's in an inland waterway," Murphy said. "It would be kind of busy."

Neugent also suggested the bayside waters behind the Marine Mammal Conservancy property in Key Largo, as that property is currently in foreclosure, he said.

Hickory House

Commissioners finalized the sale of the waterfront Hickory House property on Stock Island to developer Pritam Singh. As a condition of the sale, commissioners requested public access to the water there be maintained and Singh agreed.

"There will be public access on the boardwalk on the western shore," Assistant County Attorney Nat Cassell said. "There will be access, free of charge, from dawn until dusk 365 days a year."

As part of the $2 million deal to purchase the property from the county, Singh requested the county abandon Peninsula Avenue. The county agreed, but demanded that public access to the water be maintained.

The commission bought the Hickory House property for $3.1 million in 2006 and had been trying to sell it for years.

Singh purchased Oceanside Marina last summer for $5 million. He plans to invest another $25 million into the marina for repairs and upgrades, including 80 new condos and a restaurant.

In June, the county agreed to sell the old Hickory House property to Singh for $2 million. Singh proposes to place a large pool and tiki bar there and operate water sports activities, such as kayak and personal watercraft rentals, from the docks.

Once the sale closes, the developer will own both sides of a small section of Peninsular Avenue.

Affordable housing

Commissioners moved forward on a plan to resurrect a committee to study and make recommendations on creating and maintaining affordable housing.

In the past two years, property values have steadily risen, fueling discussions by city and county government officials about affordable and workforce housing.

The committee, which was never officially disbanded, has been "dormant" for years, County Administrator Roman Gastesi said. It stopped meeting after the real estate market collapsed about seven years ago.

Commissioners agreed to chose new members for the committee and have them start meeting and coming up with recommendations.

Also, the commission approved a $19,250 contract with the Florida Conflict Resolution Consortium to help guide the affordable housing committee.

Also on Wednesday, commissioners agreed to advertise a public meeting that state Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, is holding Monday in Marathon with county and other local government officials. They plan to discuss affordable housing in the Keys and possible solutions, Raschein said. The meeting will be at 11 a.m. at the Marathon Government Center, 2798 Overseas Highway.

tohara@keysnews.com

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