Board opposes housing on conservation land
November 6, 2019
ISLAMORADA — A proposal to build 45 units of affordable housing on 4.9 acres of hardwood hammock now zoned for conservation seems like a dubious idea, Islamorada planners and advisors said last month.
“The Local Planning Agency voted unanimously not to change the density or zoning,” LPA Chairman Pete Bacheler said of the Oct. 14 decision. The property is “too good to lose and needs to be preserved.”
The platted but undeveloped Glynn property lies east of the Venetian Shores subdivision at the south end of Plantation Key.
Representatives of the owners have been seeking a change in Islamorada’s Future Land Use Map to designate the hardwood hammock tract as Residential Medium zoning to “assist the village to stabilize the workforce by the provision of sustainable housing in a central location which can serve the housing needs of local industry workers and working professionals.”
The applicants “wanted to change the zoning from Conservation to Residential [Medium], and wanted to improve the density such that 45 affordable housing units could go in there,” Bacheler told the Islamorada Village Council on Oct. 24.
“The trade-off would be the 45 units for the detrimental effects on the hammock, because it’s all hammock,” he said. “That was a little too much for the LPA and they voted it down unanimously.”
A 17-page report filed by the Islamorada Planning Department says most of a long list of proposed changes in zoning and density at the tract “would not be consistent” with state-approved Florida Keys development guidelines that “provide for the long-term preservation of environmentally sensitive natural resource systems,” which include hardwood hammocks.
Planning Director Ty Harris also noted that Islamorada has used or committed virtually all of its available affordable housing allocations.
A special allocation for up to 300 “Workforce Initiative units” approved by the Florida Cabinet for Islamorada to help in Hurricane Irma recovery “cannot be utilized by this applicant at this location,” Harris wrote. The added building permits come with a specific prohibition on use in environmentally sensitive areas that include “tropical hardwood hammock habitats.”
Other potential problems cited include hurricane evacuation, added vehicle trips on U.S. 1 and Venetian Boulevard, water runoff into more than 80 acres of mangroves that nearly surround the hammock, and demands on potable water, sewer and electric utilities.
An appeal by the owners, represented by land-use specialist Donald Craig and the Spottswood Law Firm, to the council could be filed soon, Bacheler said.
Craig “indicated that he’s making a record so that in 2023, he’ll have something to work on for a takings claim,” Bacheler told the council.
Under the Florida Keys Rate of Growth Ordinance enacted by the state, the number of building permits countywide is fixed and forecast to run out in 2023. At that point, landowners who cannot build on their vacant property may seek compensation from local and state governments for “takings.”