To integrate or not to integrate… Two schools of urbanism are at war over plans for redevelopment of former Navy housing at Peary Court. The process of permitting the latest plan for 208 new residential units began last Monday with a 4-hour debate before HARC (Historical Architectural Review Commission).
“We want to fully integrate Peary Court into the rest of the community,” says Bernard Zyscovich, architect for the owners of Peary Court. However, that “integration plan” once again didn’t include the continuation of the street grid into and through Peary Court. Zyscovich’s current plan consists of 24 acres of manicured, landscaped, and fenced up neighborhood with one main road making a large loop through the property and exiting several hundred feet from where it started on White street.
“The applicant,“ wrote Bryan Green, a former HARC board member, in a letter to the current board, “has chosen to eliminate the existing direct connection from this site area onto Palm Avenue. This has unfortunate consequences. It, in effect, creates a cul-de-sac meaning that there is no reason for anyone other than residents, visitors and delivery drivers to enter into this area since it leads to nowhere. To all intents and purposes the elimination of connectivity through Peary and from Palm Avenue creates a quasi gated community.”
“If there were one ingress and egress – a road to nowhere,” says Commissioner Tony Yaniz, “that to me, would be a defacto gated community, even if there were no gates… I would like to see Peary Court with through streets, and no gates.”
Only residents would take that street,” admitted Zyscovich, at a previous meeting, “if they get in by accident, they’re never going to do it again because they are going to end up exactly where they started.”
“We wanted to keep the Palm Avenue entrance open,” said Jim Hendrick, the developers’ hired consultant, during a neighborhood meeting last week. Hendrick claimed that the police department would not allow it and that the City’s Planning Department was onboard. When Hendrick was asked by The Blue Paper just who at the police department had made the demand to close off Palm Avenue he was unable to produce a name. As to the claim of support from the Planning Department, that was flatly contradicted by Don Craig, the City Planning Director, who made it clear to the HARC board on Monday that the Planning Department was against the ‘road to nowhere’ system and wanted the street grid to continue through Peary Court. At which point Zyscovich retreated to a different argument: The developers need to protect future Peary Court residents from being burdened with Key West’s vehicular traffic “driving in front of their homes”. This, of course, immediately raises the counterargument: the need to protect the rest of the town from the increased traffic that will be flowing out of Peary Court.
It appears likely that the traffic flow issue is going to be hard fought. In 2013, attorneys for the sellers of Peary Court [Balfour Beatty, the Navy’s private housing partner] threatened to sue the city if it required 30% affordable housing for Peary Court unless the city agreed to increase the housing density. The density was subsequently increased to allow an additional 48 units at Peary Court. The current plan [this is round two] also calls for dozens of additional “mother-in-law units” and with many of the existing two-bedroom units being converted to three and four bedroom homes, arguably the true density of the ‘new Peary Court’ could approach twice what is found there today. Nonetheless, if the developers get their way, not only will the traffic increase due to higher density, but only one exit would remain, resulting in all of Peary Court’s traffic loading onto White Street.
Zyscovich claimed Monday that the Palm Avenue access is not being used in any way. But Don Craig called him out. After consulting Google Earth, Craig told the board that he had found 28 multi-family buildings [almost half of the existing units at Peary Court] are currently using the Palm Avenue access – the access that the developers intend to close off.
“The goal of good urban planning,” argued Don Craig [not for the first time] “is to create a harmonious and integrated community, not just for the benefit of people living in one particular area, but for the community as a whole.”
When it became obvious that the HARC board was not in favor of the plan, the developers withdrew their application. Zyscovich was sent back to the drawing board.
“What is best for the developer is not always what is best for the City,” says former City Commissioner George Halloran, who warns about the mistakes of the past:
“Thirty years ago Key West city planners and a few city commissioners attended a symposium about how cities gaining access to former military property should handle their new acreage. This was just before the Truman Annex was finally sold to private developer Pritam Singh and well before his plans for redevelopment were drawn.”
“One of the things I remember clearly from that meeting was the strong recommendation that conversions to private land from military should do away with high security aspects, and return the property to a normal city grid. That meant extend existing or former streets through the area prior to building new houses. We were told that welcoming the property back to public street access would recreate the feeling of a normal neighborhood and a much healthier community overall. This advice was based on research and experience with many reclaimed properties around the country.”
“Unfortunately, these guidelines were not followed at Truman Annex. The Presidential Gates Pritam Singh publicly vowed would “never close again” were indeed closed; the end of Front St. was shut off just past the new hotel; Eaton, Fleming and smaller streets were never re-established; and even Southard St. the main entrance to our state park and other public properties, was bottlenecked with a guardhouse. This was the way the developer wanted it, and our planner at the time, Art Mosely, caved in. So did the city commission.”
“Well, we don’t have to make the same mistakes with Peary Court. As long as the city is entitled to enforce its zoning laws on this newly private property, we can decide how the development can proceed. And the proposed single entrance with a loop road that will discourage non-residents from entering (according to the developer’s architect) is one of the first places the city should take a strong stance.”
“I would not wish to make the same mistake that was made with Truman Annex and create a walled-off community that is not part of the remainder of the community,” said City Planning Director Don Craig, “Truman Annex is not a part of Bahama Village. It is a travesty that that was allowed to occur.”
Six months ago The Blue Paper polled City Commissioners about how they felt about the creation of new gated communities:
“No, we don’t want more gated communities in Key West,” said Commissioner Teri Johnston, “I would be in favor of an ordinance that would prohibit new gated communities.”
Commissioner Clayton Lopez said he planned on discussing the drafting of such an ordinance with the city attorney and the planning director.
Commissioner Mark Rossi saw things in the same way. “I’m against gates. Just look at Truman Annex and all the issues we’ve had with that. It separates people from the larger community. Gated communities don’t belong in Key West. This isn’t Miami. We are a small little island. That’s the beauty of living here. That’s why we live here.”
Commissioner Teri Johnston is no fan of the ‘road to nowhere’ either,
“If there were to be just one roadway that loops around, to me that would create a gated community in and of itself. Full access from neighborhood to neighborhood, that is what it is all about.”
Stay tuned for round three.