November 27, 2019

ISLAMORADA — A proposal to build affordable housing on a five-acre tract of native hardwood hammock has “not one redeeming quality,” said Islamorada’s chief planner.

“This is probably the worst application I’ve seen in my entire career,” Planning Director Ty Harris told Islamorada Village Council members during a Nov. 21 quasi-judicial proceeding on the Plantation Key site near Venetian Shores.

Village Council members unanimously voted to reject owner Jay R. Glynn’s requests for land-use changes on zoning from Conservation to Residential, a comprehensive land-use plan amendment, and a reduction in open-space requirements.

“It was platted in the 1950s and nobody has done anything since,” Councilman Ken Davis said. When zoning for the overall 90-acre tract was changed to Conservation decades ago, “the owner had no issues with Conservation whatsoever.”

“I’m not in favor of any portion of this,” Vice Mayor Mike Forster said.

Representing the owner, attorney James Lupino said about five acres of the overall 90-acre tract would be used for affordable housing, and efforts to restore a separate section of hammock would serve as mitigation. He contended only about 5% of the overall site would be affected.

“It would provide for much more affordable housing and allow the owner to use his property,” Lupino said.

Up to 60 affordable housing units would be requested, the staff report said. Islamorada has fewer than three dozen affordable housing allocations available.

The remaining 85 acres of the Glynn site is protected wetland and mangroves that legally cannot be developed.

Village biologists Daniel Parobok and Pete Frezza said hammock mitigation was unlikely since the owner wants to use an elevated, high-quality hammock site for the housing. The suggested mitigation site is much lower.

“You could never recreate a similar habitat because of differences in vegetation,” Frezza said.

Local Planning Agency member Mark Gregg reminded council members the planning board voted unanimously against the housing plan.

“The LPA said this is an outrageous proposal,” Gregg said. “It was voted down … not just a ‘no’ but a ‘hell no.’”

Asked by Councilman Jim Mooney if any part of the hammock area could be used, Harris replied, “Walkways into nature. That’s about the only thing.”

In an October meeting, LPA Chairman Pete Bacheler said it appears the tract owner may be laying the groundwork for a property “takings” lawsuit when the Florida Keys reach maximum development capacity under terms of the state-imposed Rate of Growth Ordinance.

Windley Key appeal

Council members agreed to give Mark Gregg a new address, from Old Highway to Overseas Highway, for his two undeveloped lots on Windley Key.

Gregg appealed to the council so he can pursue plans for eight units of affordable housing on the essentially vacant land adjacent to Hog Heaven Sports Bar’s expanded parking lot, near mile marker 85.3, oceanside.

He asked for an address change since Islamorada will permit affordable housing on property fronting U.S. 1, but not multi-units on lots fronting Old Highway. A small median strip at the Windley Key site separates the two roads.

Gregg contended a similar neighboring property has an Overseas Highway address, but the address recently assigned to his lots says it’s Old Highway.

Planning Director Harris said he had no major issues with the Windley Key property but was concerned that property owners along the Old Highway on Plantation, Lower and Upper Matecumbe keys “may make the same argument” for additional housing.

Village Attorney Roget Bryan suggested one solution to limit potential effects of the address change was to specify there was a “factual error” in staff’s assessment of the two Windley Key lots.

Village Manager Seth Lawless objected, saying, “I don’t believe there is a staff error. … The road adjacent is Old Highway.”

Council members granted Gregg’s appeal.

Gregg previously sought a finding that each of the two lots once held housing and should qualify for residential permits. He withdrew the request at the Nov. 21 session.