At almost two years old, the civil lawsuit against the city that wants the homeless shelter on Stock Island shut down is still in legal infancy.
A hearing set for Thursday before Circuit Judge David Audlin was supposed to wrap up testimony left over from the first hearing of the case held on Nov. 2.
But that hearing has been cancelled and rescheduled for Aug. 27, as the plaintiffs asked for more time to get a witness to court.
That still unfinished hearing is for a temporary order shutting down the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter filed by Sunset Marina condominium owners Aug. 18, 2011.
"This is where they're supposed to come in and say there is this great urgent issue and we need this injunction until we go to trial," said City Attorney Shawn Smith Monday, citing the year and a half that has come since the suit.
"Frankly, I'd like to try this case and move on," Smith said.
Delays are common in litigation, Sunset Marina attorney Barton Smith said Monday, but his clients still believe the city violated its own laws by building KOTS.
Property owners say the shelter's proximity to their homes has serious consequences.
Three condo units have been vandalized by "what appeared to be three homeless persons," Barton Smith said. "Recently, several units have been sold and one seller specifically stated that the illegal homeless shelter affected the sale price."
Sunset Marina sued the city Aug. 18, 2011, asking a court to order KOTS, 5537 College Road, closed due to the hasty way in which the city built it in 2004.
Although the civil lawsuit has dragged on, city staff and leaders have been laying the groundwork for a dramatic change in homeless shelters.
Smith said Monday the suit is no longer a threat to Key West's homeless services.
"The option to move is available," said Smith, referring to the city's push to build a 24/7 shelter at the former Easter Seals property on College Road. "If we were to prevail in the litigation, the city could have the option of keeping that 'penalty box' (KOTS)."
Those who don't want to participate in programs could stay at KOTS, while "higher functioning" adults could stay at the new center, Shawn Smith said.
Over the past year, the city made strides in planning a new, 24-7 shelter with comprehensive services for the homeless at the Easter Seals property. New zoning went through the Planning Board and then the commission.
The zoning change was recently upheld by a state agency when Sunset Marina asked for a review of Key West's new regulations. But that round went to the city.
"Providing shelters for the homeless obviously protects the public health, safety and welfare of homeless persons who use the shelter," wrote Bram Canter, an administrative law judge who heard the Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) case in February, in his ruling. "The shelters also help to decrease panhandling and loitering in public areas by homeless persons, especially in areas with high visibility and use by tourists."
Sunset Marina struck out with DOAH, as attorney Barton Smith argued the theory that the homeless shelter's population could hamper a hurricane evacuation at the condos.
"Plaintiffs lost in that case," said Shawn Smith. "With your amended regulations, you could sit a homeless center at Easter Seals. If you do, that makes the lawsuit they have moot. That's your desire anyway."
Although no financial estimates or details have emerged on the new homeless shelter, the City Commission earlier this year agreed to support it via a resolution.
KOTS takes in about 140 men and women each evening, offering a thin vinyl mattress and a shower. Everyone must leave by 7 a.m. the next day.
To get to KOTS, most of the homeless walk or push bicycles onto the Sheriff's Office property -- right by the entrance to the marina resort.
Sunset Marina sits next-door to the county jail and Sheriff's Office headquarters, and in the shadows of Mount Trashmore, the local nickname for the former dump.
Former assistant city manager John Jones said on the witness stand Nov. 2, he was acting under emergency conditions in 2004, when Key West had mini tent cities along the Bridle Path by the airport and across the beaches and mangroves.
Smith told the City Commission earlier this month that Key West is in the clear, no matter how the lawsuit plays out.
"We produced evidence the city in fact did get permits to put up the facility," said Smith, at the commission's April 2 meeting. "I think Mr. Jones likes to be the guy who cuts through red tape.
"We have a long way to go in that case before determinations. It may not mean a thing if you give direction to move."