by Arnaud and Naja Girard…….
“I love the place,” says Bryan, a taxi driver, who lives on a boat at Sunset Marina on Stock Island, “I can’t believe we’re going to have to move.” Living aboard — this Key West style solution to affordable housing — is in jeopardy at the marina. While discussing the approval of expanded development during the City Commission meeting last Wednesday, Barton Smith, the developer, revealed that liveaboards would no longer be tolerated at the docks.
Smith, an attorney, is suing the City over the location of the marina’s next door neighbor homeless shelter but has apparently become the City Commission’s new best friend. He needs their approval to build 62 new apartments on top of the marina’s parking lot. But he only wants to build 7 low and median-income affordable units — unless the City waves $245,000 in fees and allows him 5 more market rate units, in which case he would agree to provide 12 low and median-income units.
Questions surrounding Smith’s new development plan turned this week’s City Commission meeting into a scene out of Gulliver’s Travels.
Under the current city code “at least 10% of all new multifamily residential units constructed” must be reserved for low-income affordable housing and at least 20% must be for “median income” affordable housing.
But according to Smith’s reading of the code, what the law intended was for the developer to first choose how many market rate units he needs (he chose 23), then multiply that number by 30% to figure out how many low and median income units he’ll need to add to the 23 market rate units. Then use another section of the code to add a number of “middle-income” units (in this case 18) and then some “moderate-income” units (in this case 14) and end up with only 5 median-income units and 2 low-income units; a total of 7 – instead of 18 (30% of 62).
Would it surprise the Key West readers that this convoluted code slashing, cherry-picking interpretation of the affordable housing regulations instantly appeared letter perfect and crystal clear to most of the City Commissioners? Well, it did.
“Certainly the developers made out,” said Commissioner Sam Kaufman, the only dissenting voice heard on the dais, “People are congratulating each other over this development and patting each other on the back as though we’re providing this great mix of affordable housing. But the developers received a great benefit which doesn’t seem consistent with the code. And in the end the requirement for 30% low and median was not satisfied.” Kaufman is a practicing attorney.
The “damage” at Sunset Marina could in fact be much more substantial. According to dock owners interviewed by The Blue Paper about half of the 118 slips at Sunset Marina are used by liveaboards. Under city code slips used to store boats require only 1 onsite parking space for every four slips whereas slips that harbor liveaboards require 1 space per slip. With liveaboards in the picture Smith’s new project wouldn’t be able to provide all the parking required.
Some dock owners said they’ve been renting to liveaboards for years. They claim they were not notified about the City Commission meeting regarding approval of the project: “I have a mortgage at the bank. It shows I own a dock and some baybottom at Sunset Marina,” says Captain Sadler James who claims he happened upon the meeting by chance. James challenged the Commission on both the notice and the parking requirements. “I also pay real estate taxes.”
According to City Code 90.683(2) notification of all property owners within 500 feet of the project is mandatory. “All 92 slip owners should have been notified of every public meeting that was held for this project. We are just inches away.” said James.
The City has a declared deficit of low income affordable rental units (with rents this year capped at $1535 a month), but according to Comprehensive Plan data it has a surplus of moderate-income rental affordable housing (rents at $2322). The Commission recently spent all $12.5 Million of its Land Authority affordable housing funds to preserve the moderate and middle-income affordable housing at Peary Court [this year rents capped at $2322 and $2709/month – 2-bedroom units].
This week on Craig’s list 2-bedroom market rate apartments are offered at Ocean Walk for $2160/month. Yet the City Commission abandoned the plain reading of the law requiring that 30% of all new units being built be reserved for low and median-income residents and the occupants of approximately 50 or so liveaboard vessels are now very unsure of their fate. The Commission approved a deal whereby 89% [55/62] of the new units to be constructed onsite will be allowed to rent for more than $2300/month.
Under City Code Sections 90-682 (11) and 108-198, the City Commission is empowered to add reasonable conditions or restrictions to development agreements as necessary for the welfare of the City’s residents. The City fathers claim to be consumed by the pleas of low-income employees unable to pay their rents, yet developers always find a majority on the dais willing to minimize affordable housing requirements.
In 2008 a lumberyard on Simonton Street was considered enough of a preexisting development to bypass the 30% rule even though dwellings had never existed on the site. At the other end of Simonton in 2014, 44 trailers were bulldozed and replaced by high-dollar homes. In that case Commissioners had decided not to apply the 30% rule either. The transformation of the trailer park, they said, qualified as “redevelopment” therefore the gentrification was not to be affected by the 30% rule requiring a ratio of affordable housing.
Commissioner Richard Payne let slip an interesting insight into the underlying contempt of some in the establishment for the 30% rule. “I’m wondering,” said the former Judge during the debate, “The different types of people you’re gonna have in the affordable units from the people who are paying the market rate, mixing so close in proximity. Is this a good idea that they’re all together?”
This was followed by a few politically correct remarks by the developer and several others, on the dais, about our “One Human Family.”
Sunset Marina already has 4 affordable housing units onsite. Under City regulations enforcement of the deed restrictions is left to the Key West Housing Authority. Interestingly enough the 4 existing affordable housing units at Sunset Marina never made it to the Housing Authority’s list of restricted units. The deed restrictions for those units were filed in February of 2010, eight years after they were required to be filed as per a previous development agreement. But even then they were left off the list and have never been monitored at all for compliance. They should rent [or sell] only to those eligible at the median-income level.
As to the proposed affordable housing deed restriction declaration for the 7 new low and median –income affordable housing units, it makes no mention of any required number of low or median income units and specifically ties all “39” of the “affected” affordable units to the section of the code that allows for moderate and middle income rentals [$2322 and $2709].
This brings back the familiar question: Is there any point fighting for a certain percentage of affordable housing units if the deed restrictions are not going to be enforced?