April 10, 2019

ISLAMORADA — Workforce housing built with property or financial backing from the village should give local workers priority, say Village Council members.

State and local government agencies “have these people down here and they have no place to live,” Councilwoman Cheryl Meads said during the April 4 discussion of an eight-unit complex planned on Plantation Key.

“Somehow we need to make sure these are people who work here,” Councilman Jim Mooney said. “This is for our teachers, doctors, firemen and hotel staff. … If you get eight units, they can’t be filled with people who don’t work.”

The council unanimously passed a resolution giving Carysfort Homes, represented by Key Largo resident Daniel Leben, a 99-year ground lease for the property, which was purchased by Islamorada for $390,000 as a workforce/affordable housing site in the Woods Avenue and Gardenia Street area.

“After investing hundreds of thousands of dollars, we don’t want [Islamorada] people asking: Why are the people living there working in Key Largo?” Councilman Ken Davis said.

Council members suggested creating a ranking-point system for eventual rental tenants that would favor Islamorada and government employees.

The complex, expected to be one-bedroom modular units, lies between Coral Shores High School and Plantation Key School. Leben said he does not foresee a lack of “quality people … We’ll make it available to those who need it most.”

“We’d like to see him get going on this,” Village Manager Seth Lawless said. The complex tentatively is scheduled to be complete in June 2021.

In a slate of other housing-related items at the April 4 Islamorada meeting:

• Council members unanimously approved granting four market-rate housing allocations to Native Rental Properties LLC for four vacant lots on Plantation Key’s Fontaine Drive. Local residents Brett and Jacquelyn Ekblom manage the corporation and will oversee construction of the rental houses.

• The council voted to accept 300 affordable housing allocations from the state to provide workforce housing in Islamorada. Village staff anticipates that not all of the units will be needed, due to limited building sites and a state mandate that the special allocations be permanently used for “severely restricted” rental housing. Tenants must agree to evacuate with tourists 48 hours before a hurricane strike.

• Owners of vacant residential property in Islamorada will be alerted by certified letters that a pending “build-out” for new Florida Keys homes could arrive in 2023.

The cap on residential building permits was instituted by the state to maintain a 24-hour hurricane evacuation time for residents.

“We’re being forced to abide by it,” Davis said.

Council members advised owners of vacant land to carefully review current limitations on new construction.