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Feature article by David Lybrand
[Published in Key West Citizen's Solares Hill on March 14, 2008.]
In Defense of a Neighborhood
Why do some of the people of Key West hold such bad feelings about a single neighborhood within our fair city?
You rarely hear ill words about 1800 Atlantic or Roosevelt Annex or Key West Beach Club, each of which fully walls off a segment of the waterfront from the public. Resorts like the Casa Marina, the Reach, the Hyatt expect you to pay to enjoy their piece of the waterfront, and few complain. But the Truman Annex neighborhood., which only loosely constrains access, is bashed regularly.
Is this an exaggeration? Look at last week’s City Commission meeting comments, read or spoken into the public record. They state that those who live in the Truman Annex neighborhood:
- do not wish to abide by the laws of the city
- are greedy
- are unreasonable
- seek special privileges
- are “non-residents”
- are dishonest
- are “hungry lions”
- won’t honor agreements
- show racism
Does any neighborhood in this city deserve such scorn? Let’s try to understand how this level of rhetoric can be justified.
Besides the Southard Street issue (which we’ll get to shortly), the most commonly cited indictment against Truman Annex is that it “walls out” the rest of the city. But does it really? Anyone can walk around in the Annex anywhere they wish throughout the day. A steady stream of tourists strolls through and visits attractions inside and beyond the Annex. It’s far more open than virtually any “gated” community in America. Is this a neighborhood trying to isolate itself?
Many smaller properties within the city have their own walls and fences. For Truman Annex that “division” just happens to be a collective one, rather than surrounding an individual house or compound. Truman Annex homeowners collectively pay for all of the property within that fence, just like other homeowners do for their “single family” yards. Is every KW homeowner who happens to have a fence is an “isolationist”? Why does it bother people when it’s done on a larger scale?
Let’s assume that the fences and walls ARE a bad thing. The fact is, the Truman Annex development was designed almost 20 years ago and approved by the City back then. Building began in the late ‘80s. Most of the homes have been bought and sold since then. Should everyone who ever purchases a home in Truman Annex be branded with the original sin of the developer who built it?
“Yes,” you say, “because they could tear down the walls and fences now if they wished.” You and I may think that’s a good idea, but many who have purchased these homes over the years did so because they liked the idea of a fence around their property. Are they such bad people for that? Are other single-family homeowners also pariahs for liking their fences?
Perhaps the fence isn’t the big issue for some who continue to loath Truman Annex. Perhaps a perceived problem is that there are a number of expensive homes in the neighborhood with seasonal residents? But isn’t this true of much of Key West? Aren’t there snowbirds in almost every block?
The fact that there are a significant number of monthly or weekly renters in Truman Annex, dismays some. That’s valid, but renters are also present in every neighborhood of the city. It’s understandable that people don’t like “bad renters” next door. But they are a problem for individual homeowners, not for neighborhoods as a whole.
Walls, snowbirds, renters – all annoying, but present throughout the city. Reason enough to loath ONE neighborhood to a point where it’s okay to publicly insult it without thought for the feelings of those who live there? Doubtful. There must be a more personal stake driving such feelings. This brings us to Southard Street…
Though some refuse to believe it, the stretch of Southard through Truman Annex does belong to the residents of Truman Annex. The Navy and the State of Florida accepted this almost 20 years ago when they signed easement agreements through Truman Annex with the owner of the street. They weren’t forced to sign the agreements, they did so freely and willingly when ownership was conveyed to Pritham Singh (subsequently passed on to TAMPOA).
Beyond the de-facto ownership stated by the easement agreements, detailed title searches were done that validate this ownership. Some get up and state “show me a piece of paper in simple language that proves that TAMPOA owns Southard Street.” This cannot be done! Ask the title insurance company for your own house to show you such a simple piece of paper. It’ll give them a good chuckle.
Southard Street’s history has many twists and turns involving many governments with records kept in many places (some far away). At much expense to the residents of the Truman Annex neighborhood this has been researched and resolved, all the way back to the Spanish monarchy. The City knows that contesting this further is a waste of time and (tax) money.
Once you know a street belongs to a neighborhood’s homeowners, it would be neighborly to work out a friendly agreement for use of their property, right? Or must the neighborhood continue to be vilified for defending ownership? Must threats of “declare imminent domain” continue to be bandied about?
The Key West citizens living in the Truman Annex have always been ready to share Southard with the rest of the community. Always have, always will. It’s already one of the busiest streets in Old Town, and this new easement agreement won’t reduce or redirect that at all. Virtually ALL of the traffic to and from the new developments in the Truman Waterfront will continue through Southard.
One City Commissioner (who happens to live in a compound that blocks people from another part the island’s waterfront) accuses Truman Annex residents of seeking “special status”. Yeah, right. Special “heavy traffic all day long over its private property” status? There are a few in Truman Annex who fought hard against the settlement. They felt it let the city take too much advantage of the good will of the neighborhood. Those people have a point. But I believe that most Truman Annex residents were ready, as always, to “give back” to the city. And give, they did.
But for some this still wasn’t good enough. It’s hard to figure out just what would have been good enough, short of seizing a lot of private property (regardless of how much it would cost to do so). It appears they actually believed that Southard could actually remain the only passage to the waterfront.
Long before this agreement, everyone who paid attention knew that there would eventually be other connections to the Truman Waterfront. Anyone who believed that the people of Bahama Village would be willing to stay shut off from their own new development (the “Bahama Conch Village” being planned by the BCCLT) had to be kidding themselves. Anyone who thinks that the citizens of Bahama Village would rather travel all the way up to Southard to enter the property that’s directly connected to the Village should guess again.
Emotional tales of having fished the waterfront in the past, spoken as if somehow the evil residents of Truman Annex were taking that away, were at best surreal. If the CITY allows night fishing on the Truman Waterfront, the people of Bahama Village will be able to go directly there through their own streets, regardless of what happens on Southard.
After the earlier testosterone-laden posturing of the Commission with respect to Truman Annex, it was heartening to finally see Commissioner Verge speak up and express regret that this was ever allowed to turn into a neighborhood verses neighborhood issue. I know for a fact that the residents of the Truman Annex have never sought to do any harm to Bahama Village. Indeed they have been wounded deeply by the accusations against them. The neighborhood is filled with people who are constant contributors to the well-being of this city. They don’t deserve to be lambasted with such undeservedly vituperative attacks.
If there was ever a time to work together, it is now. Please join me in working to heal the needless wounds that have divided our City.
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