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KONK REACTOR column
[Published in the KONK Life newspaper on June 7, 2012.]
Developers Never Sleep
The last week of May showed how absolutely important it is that we remain ever-vigilant in our efforts to defend our environment and quality of life in the Keys. The always-lurking developers attacked on several fronts. Thankfully — unlike our old days of Bubba-power, Navy-pressure & Cronyism — this time they have been temporarily fended off by wise and honest actions of the Key West City Commission and the Monroe County Planning Board. But these are just skirmishes in the ongoing battle.
In Key West the shady backroom campaign by British real estate giant Balfour Beatty and the team that once tried to swamp our seaport with massive condos made its first official push to boost their profit-potential at Peary Court. It seems that the deal Balfour Beatty made with the Navy where they cash in on the Navy’s efforts to reduce housing costs hasn’t worked out as they planned. They’re having a rough time making the big bucks they had hoped for in managing Navy housing properties. To patch up their botched plans, they now need to sell off Peary Court at a price far beyond the fully affordable housing complex’s current value.
They found a willing partner (ignoring its history of over-reaching and foreclosure) in that effort. That partner was willing to make an offer that would only reach their lofty profit goal if the City would violate its affordable housing policies. Wisely the City Commission made it clear they would not do so. And now of course all the lawyers are talking smack about City intransigence and tossing around the “remember Duck Tours” cliché response. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Some are worried that the withdrawal of the development plan lets the developer convert ALL of Peary Court into high-price housing. Not likely. Their main profit relied on them building a NEW set of expensive condos at the old Credit Union building site. Without that development, they’d have to individually upgrade all of the below-building-code existing housing and hope that rich buyers will buy into a slowly-converted neighborhood. That’s far too slow of a profit-builder for greedy developers.
Though they posture themselves as being trodden upon by stubborn Commissioners, it’s clear that they will HAVE to face the fact that our City’s affordable housing requirements are important to our survival and MUST take precedence over greedy profit motives.
Meanwhile, just outside of town a few land-owners have been looking for a way to cash in big-time on industrial properties they are fortunate enough to own. Apparently they’ve got developers on-tap telling them they can get Walmart down into the keys if the County will just let them change ALL of the rules. Ignoring for now how AWFUL that would be, let’s assume it has merit. How should they proceed? Their first step would be to prepare a specific plan for the properties and pursue the process of rezoning them to accommodate the plan – right?
Not in this case. They went straight to the planning board and asked it to recommend approval to rezone ALL INDUSTRIAL PROPERTIES THROUGHOUT THE KEYS to allow commercial development! Not only that, they wanted to throw out all rate of growth ordinance (ROGO) rules for the property. Excuse me???
They’re tossing around as justification statements like “everybody wants a Walmart”, and “I had to drive to the mainland to buy _____” (apparently having never heard of that wacky thing called “The Internet”, where you can order ANYTHING). They even used our loss of Fast Buck Freddies to show a need for Walmart. WTF? Wisely, the county’s Planning Commission showed them to the door. But like the jilted stalker, they’ll be back.
As I reach my deadline, I read in today’s daily paper: “After a several year hiatus, interest seems to be growing in redeveloping Safe Harbor on Stock Island.” Remember the Gang of Three attempt in 2008 to increase density there to a level that could allow an 800 room hotel?
Our improving economy along with developer-friendly moves by State government have these parasites coming out of the woodwork again. We must stand together to resist the scourge.
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