SIMONTON ST. TRAILER PARK: 44 Affordable Units and 37 Protected Trees to Disappear

Simonton Street Trailer Park
Simonton Street Trailer Park

by Naja and Arnaud Girard…….

Quelle surprise!  Another developer doesn’t want to include 30% affordable housing in its building plans.

This time it involves the trailer park at the corner of Virginia and Simonton.   The plan calls for removal of all trailers and the construction of all new market rate modular homes.

“I have been in Key West for 27 years,” says Jeep Cailloiet, “with all the talk and studies about affordable housing nothing has changed, slowly but surely working people are being squeezed out.”

The trailer park belonged to the Catholic church for over 50 years.  In fact, it is right next door to the grounds of Saint Mary Star of the Sea.  It is as though frozen in time.  You walk on dead leaves, circling around the fifty or so old-fashioned trailers from yesteryear, sunk into the ground and shaded by the uninterrupted canopy of gigantic Royal Poincianas.

The property has 44 “ROGOS” [each “ROGO” equates to a right to build one residential unit] and was purchased in 2009 by Southernmost Cabana Resort, for $2.4 Million with only $480,000 down.

It makes you wonder where our housing authority was on closing day.   The Monroe County Land Authority is dedicated to the preservation of affordable housing and has a separate account just for property within Key West City limits.    It recently purchased a property with 11 units on Eisenhower Drive for $1.4 Million.  It would seem that 44 units on an acre of land for $2.4 Million should have looked like a bargain.

But former County Commissioner Kim Wigington, who sat  on the board of the Land Authority, says she does not recall any discussion about the purchase of the Simonton Street property or any suggestion by the City that they were even interested in the property.

According to Key West Planning Director Don Craig, Key West has lost approximately 250 affordable units due to expiration of deed restrictions within the past year.  And the loss of workforce housing would have been even greater if the Peary Court deal had not fallen through.

Actually, this should be a matter of reflection for the developers of the Simonton Street Trailer Park.  The whole fiasco with Peary Court and Balfour Beatty’s property taxes erupted precisely because of developers’ refusal to build 30% affordable housing.  People got upset, started to poke around at the tax issue, and the rest is history.   At this point it looks like the whole affair may have gone belly up.

“I am really going to miss living here,” says Patrick Stecher.  He makes a living selling hand-made wire sculpture on Duval Street – wire hogfish, wire cats and dogs, you name it.   “This place is very unique,”  he says and as we listen to Patrick’s colorful descriptions of his neighbors (musicians, artists, sailors) we don’t dare ask why the inside of his home is entirely coated with aluminum foil.  We suspect the answer is going to be something like, “It prevents the CIA from reading my thoughts.”  But it’s okay – he cuts us a deal on a wire sculpture of a cat eating a fish.

“I’ve seen it happen for 27 years now,” says Jeep who is one of the park tenants, as he stands before a  “Life is Good” sign that’s hanging near his neighbor’s door.  Jeep is a musician.  He plays the banjo at Mallory Square.  He almost shipwrecked last week during the Schooner Wharf Mini Regatta.  “And,” he adds, “I made it first in my class at the Wreckers Race.” [He had the only 18-foot sailboat in the race.]

“One of the worst parts is that all of those trees, I think 37 of them, are going to be cut down and they look like they could be over a hundred years old,” says Rita Whalen, Jeep’s trailermate, pointing to a giant ficus tagged with a little pink ribbon, apparently signifying that its days are numbered.

Indeed, the application presented to the Tree Commission two weeks ago shows plans for the removal of almost 470 caliper inches of “protected trees.”

In the meantime Jeep will keep playing his banjo at Mallory.

“When you want genuine music – music that will come right home to you like a bad quarter, suffuse your system like strychnine whiskey, go right through you like Brandreth’s pills, ramify your whole constitution like the measles, and break out on your hide like the pinfeather pimples on a picked goose – when you want all this, just smash your piano, and invoke the glory-beaming banjo!”   – Mark Twain

Simonton Street Trailer Park
Simonton Street Trailer Park

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