Mar 032017

by Arnaud and Naja Girard…….

Key West Planning Director, Thaddeus Cohen, “came to a mutual agreement” [with the City Manager] “to end Mr. Cohen’s tenure with the City.” The official explanation is quite diplomatic: “The transition will better serve the City’s needs.” “Planning is a complex and challenging department…” reads the official PR statement that the City sent to The Blue Paper.

But, on the inside, people in the know describe some serious bad weather inside the Planning Department. There are reports of shouting matches between staff and the Planning Director that were “heard through the walls” at the new City Hall.

“Mr. Cohen’s tenure” has been marred with controversy; some of it not entirely of his making.

First, there was the affordable housing BPAS issue. In mid-August last year the City Commission, faced with an unprecedented housing crisis, had agreed to reserve all BPAS [building allocations] for the coming year for affordable housing. During multiple public meetings planning consultant, Jim Hendrick, warned the City that such a move was contrary to the City’s Comprehensive Plan. Hendrick recommended that the City also amend its Comprehensive Plan. That was not done. As predicted, the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity [DEO] rejected the City’s effort, because it was contrary to the Comprehensive Plan. The Planning Department missed the deadline to appeal the DEO’s decision and has not brought forward the necessary Comprehensive Plan amendment.

In the meantime, processing of BPAS allocations are moving along according to the old code. For this year, the Planning Department sanctioned allocations for 29 market rate units, 10 new transients, and only 22 affordable units. The Planning Board adopted the planning department’s controversial recommendation to award transient units but awarded all 10 to Ed Swift and Chris Belland for an Eisenhower Drive project. [Planners had recommended the 10 should go to a different developer who was also developing affordable housing. Belland and Swift have been caught multiple times violating the City’s code relative to unlawful transient rentals at property owned by Swift and managed by Belland at Key Cove on Roosevelt Boulevard.]

Then there was the LUD scandal. The Blue Paper reported that certain homeowners were using a mind-boggling loophole, available through application to the Planning Director. If you could prove that you were illegally renting units on a transient basis on April 1, 2010 then the Planning Director would recognize your house, and all the illegal units you’d secretly created inside it, as a legal “guest house”. Many applicants would prove their case by proudly producing their code enforcement citations for illegal transient rentals. In all fairness to Mr. Cohen, that shameful loophole was created by his predecessor, Donald Craig. However, despite citizens’ outrage Cohen never proposed a code amendment to shut down the practice.

The affordable housing code amendment Mr. Cohen did propose turned out to be even more controversial. Today, the City requires 30% affordable housing for any “new” residential construction project in Key West. Many hoped the amendments would finally create the code needed to extend the requirement to “redevelopment” projects of substantial size. Thaddeus Cohen, however, proposed a reduction of the affordable housing low and median-income ratio from 30% to 15%.

Mr. Cohen also endorsed attorney Barton Smith’s controversial reading of the affordable housing code on a new development on Stock Island. Cohen was so lenient, that he let Smith’s development project at Sunset Marina go through with only 11% low and median-income affordable housing. The Planning Director also made no opposition to Mr. Smith’s maximum density calculation for the project based on 4.5 acres of buildable land even though it was approximately 1.5 acres larger than what the county property appraiser and the State’s DEO’s records showed.

There were also multiple complaints by residents about controversial neighborhood projects that they had not been properly notified about.

One insider, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Blue Paper that certain Commissioners were losing patience. Apparently, City Manager Jim Scholl, had given Mr. Cohen “20 days to straighten out his department.”

The postponement of several important items on last week’s Planning Board agenda, because planning staff had not issued the proper legal notices, may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Reading between the lines of the official statement about Mr. Cohen’s departure, it appears his management style may have fallen out of step with Key West.

Did they mean that Mr. Cohen was spending too much time planning large projects, like the controversial hotel at the Truman waterfront, and not enough time micro-managing “vital day-to-day customer services” or did he lose his footing in one of those secret tug-of-wars Key West is famous for?

Here is the full official statement sent to The Blue Paper by City spokesperson Alyson Crean.

Mr. Cohen will continue in his role as Planning Director through the end of this month.

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Arnaud and Naja Girard
Arnaud and Naja Girard, publishers and editors of the new, digital, Key West the Newspaper (The Blue Paper) previously reported for the former Key West The Newspaper, Key West’s longest running independent weekly, published by Dennis Reeves Cooper, Ph.D., from January 1994 until November 2012. The Girards are perhaps best known for their discovery of and extensive research surrounding the US Navy’s 1951 claim of ownership of Wisteria Island but are also responsible for top investigative stories including breaking news coverage of the highly controversial in-custody-death of Charles Eimers on Thanksgiving Day 2013, the catastrophic police tasing of Matthew Shawn Murphy, and the property tax scandal involving Balfour Beatty to name a few. Arnaud and Naja have lived in Key West since 1986.
 March 3, 2017  Posted by at 1:04 am News  Add comments

  4 Responses to “Planning Director Out at End of March”

  1. Bumped into City Commissioner Sam Kaufman today. We talked some about Cohen’s departure. I said, beyond the whitewash report in today’s Key West Citizen, I had come to view Cohen as sneaky, not always honest, and uppity. I later told Tom Milone the same thing. Given how easy it is to get sued for libel in Key West, for being quoted online by me, I do not report here what Sam and Tom told me.

    I imagine the problem might run a bit deeper, though, than Cohen. Developers, such as Ed Swift, the Spottswoods, Pritam Singh, developers represented by Jim Hendrick, Barton Smith and his parents, have had their way with the city, and with the county. You want to see that change, then elect Naja Girard for mayor, and people who view developers like she does for city commissioners, to join Sam Kaufman.

    • So Mr. Cohen is “Uppity”? As noted in The Atlantic (“Yep, ‘Uppity’ Is Racist”
      The Atlantic, Nov.22,2011), “uppity” was a term racist southerners used for black people who didn’t know their place.

  2. Bumped into county planning commissioner Ron Miller at Harpoon Harry’s diner this morning. He had come down on his new sailboat, a catamaran, having a hell of a time dodging lobster and crab traps bouys and lines; they are all over the place, he said. On the outside (Atlantic) and on the inside (Gulf).

    Father of the Northern Florida Keys Resistance, Ron chained and locked himself to the old Jewfish Creek Bridge, to protest the building of the new 18-Mile-Stretch from Florida City, and the new Jewfish Creet Bridge. Really pissed of a Federal Judge. That was before I knew about former Key West city commissioner Harry Powell, the Father of the Southern Florida Keys Resistance, now retired and moving out of the Florida Keys.

    Ron is the voice of reason on the county planning commission. But he gets outvoted. I told him the Sylvia Rule needs to be applied to Pritam Singh. The Sylvaa Rule came about when county commissioner Sylvia Murphy voted against something having to do with land use in the county, simply because Key West attorney and developer Barton Smith was in favor of it. Smith was schooled by Jim Hendrick in land use loopholes and fast ones.

    Under the Sylvia Rule, I told Ron, any development application Pritam Singh brings to the county government is declined by county staff, because Pritam has a proven track record, like Barton Smith, of saying his developments will be this, and his developments turn out to be that. The county government does not have do deal with developers who do not do what they say they are going to do. If those lips are moving developers don’t like that, they can sue the county.

    Ron told a story of Thaddeus Cohen sitting beside Ed Swift in a county meeting in the Marathon Government Center. Swift was sure he was going to get a whole bunch of new building rights. Swift didn’t get what he wanted that time.

    Ron said Sylvia wants him to run for county commission, to replace her. He said he feels he is more effective on the planning commission. He is hoping Dottie Moses will run when Sylvia steps down. Dottie has been really involved in county land use issues for some time. She might be a good replacement for Sylvia, whom I first met when she and I both ran for county commission the first time, in 2006 Sylvia for the Key Largo commission seat, I for George Neugent’s seat.

    Neugent beat me 3-1. He got every Republican vote, I imagine. I’m an Independent. I asked Ron Miller if he remembered my campaign mantra during the 2006 race? No.

    “No more new development, period, the end. The Florida Keys already are way over developed, and nobody living here can look in a mirror and honestly say otherwise.”

    I asked Ron if he could imagine what it would be like if I were on the county commission, with angels telling me what developers are really up to, and me telling that during county commission meetings? Wouldn’t that be a hoot? Ron smiled.

    Ron did not smile, recounting what Pritam pulled off at Oceanside Marina.

    Nor did Ron smile, recounting the county commission reversing its position of stretching the county’s remaining ROGOS out over the next 20 years, to using them up during the next 10 years. ROGOS are what we used to call new development building rights. One ROGO for one new house, for example.

    Might be the ultimate fix is a Category 5 hurricane, which landfalls Key West and waltzes at that strength up the Florida Keys.

  3. Trust me the results of a hurricane 5 would not end near the way you are thinking. It would destroy many of the few remaining low income housing and they would not get rebuilt. Much of the historical value would be gone forever. End result would be no tourist for several years and the new buildings would change the looks of KW to a point that we would stop going.

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