TAVERNIER -- A familiar face has returned to the top position of the Tavernier Community Association.
Chris Gardner, who took over the group's reins from John Hammerstrom in March, says his focus will be carrying on the tradition of responding to the complaints and inquiries of local residents.
The Air Force veteran moved to Tavernier in 1991 with his wife and is a founding member of the politically active organization.
Gardner says the group's purpose is to offer a forum for residents, community leaders and charitable organizations. Recently, the group hosted a presentation about hospice and end-of-life care. At an upcoming meeting, a county code enforcement official will field questions from the membership.
"We support our neighbors and act as a voice," Gardner said.
A controversial issue the association continues to monitor is the attempted lease of the former Florida Keys Electric Cooperative building to federal immigration authorities.
County officials in April 2012 denied the Tampa-based property owner's application to redevelop the mile marker 91.5 property as a federal facility, saying the proposed use did not meet the primary needs of the community, a requirement of its suburban-commercial zoning, and was incompatible with the historic district's character.
In an Aug. 31 hearing, the Monroe County Planning Commission upheld that decision after two hours of public comment without one local supporter of the project. Many of the speakers against the sale were members of the association. Gardner said his 38-member group will keep pushing to prevent the project as it moves through a state appeal.
Another small victory came when the association urged county planners to redirect lights from the renovated Circle K that were pointing into neighboring houses.
A pressing issue for the group is the renewed discussion about incorporating the island of Key Largo.
"Incorporation is all about the dollars," Gardner said. "You have to really show me the benefits."
Key Largo Wastewater Board member Steve Gibbs has begun hosting meetings to explore if incorporating the island will be financially feasible. To keep abreast of those efforts, a TCA member attends the meetings.
Gardner said he wants to see Tavernier receive some of the county's sales tax money. In the November election, voters elected to extend the one-penny sales tax, which will raise millions of dollars. The focus of initial pots of money for county officials will be to fund the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System.
But Gardner hopes he can secure some of that funding to set up a community meeting place in Tavernier. The TCA currently meets at the Tavernier firehouse.
Gardner said works were in place to build a community center before the real estate bubble burst in 2008.
Meanwhile, Gardner says his group will continue to serve as a soapbox for residents' concerns.
"We wait for problems to come to us," Gardner said. "We don't go out and search for them."