Peary Court: Conversions From Military to Private Land Should Return Property To A Normal City Grid

 

canstockphoto0419413WHAT IS BEST FOR THE DEVELOPER IS NOT ALWAYS WHAT IS BEST FOR THE CITY

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.

There are several reasons developers don’t want streets running through their property.  One is that pavement takes up space and may reduce the number of houses they can build and sell.  But if the rules are clear from the beginning, the value of the property is set prior to purchase, and potential buyers will factor in the unit count before they finalize plans.  Another reason developers may want to exclude the general public with bottlenecks or guard stations is to market their land as gated communities where homeowners can control the environment. Some people are more comfortable living on a private preserve, and will pay more money for that privilege.

But these reasons are not the stuff good city planning is made from.  What is best for the developer is not always what is best for the city.  And our city moms and dads (the city commission) need to be careful about what they approve for this huge piece of property.  In my opinion planners should think hard about extending Fleming and Southard Streets into Peary Court as a minimum.  Maybe some of the smaller cross streets should also be extended.  Studying the traffic patterns and the social elements together should help determine the best course for Peary Court’s future.

George Halloran

Key West

See past articles on Peary Court development plans here

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