Saturday, August 06, 2005

Judge: City gave HTA a monopoly -- and other things

It's been an eventful week in the Real Key West. A judge ruled in another aspect of the Duck Tours case that the City violated anti-trust laws by granting a de facto exclusive franchise to Historic Tours of America to conduct vehicle and historic tours in the City. A Federal Appeals Court panel has already upheld a $13.5 million judgement awarded to John Murphy, owner of the Duck Tour business, who was shut down and put out of business, "ground into the dirt", to use the language of City staff and officials themselves.

Another judge ruled that the Watermark Project was illegally approved by three different City boards, and that the permits must be rescinded. About the ruling and the facts of the case, Dennis Reeves Cooper, Editor and Publisher of Key West the Newspaper, said this week: "HARC guidelines say that new buildings in historic district can only be 2-1/2 stories tall. Any City official who can't count to 2-1/2 is either too dumb to be a City official, or he's crooked."

The project was approved successively by three City boards: HARC, Planning and City Commission, each time with a majority but not unanimity. The next move is up to the City and/or developers. Appeal, or re-plan. Which will it be?

The third big item, at least for us, was a meeting that we attended on Thursday evening, the one I mentioned yesterday before we left for the movies. I'll get to that, but first just a word about the movie, March of the Penguins. It was excellent! An interesting story, told well by Morgan Freeman as narrator, and illustrated by stunning photography in the most remote region on the planet. We highly recommend it. Fascinating!

As to the workshop, it was described by Commissioner Carmen Turner, who arranged it a week earlier, as "an opportunity for citizens to join City staff in developing ways to minimize traffic impacts to the neighborhood while still reconnecting Bahama Village to the Truman Waterfront. Participants are encouraged to bring "out of the box" suggestions and ideas for consideration and discussion". Several of us from the blocks that will be most seriously affected if the City's current traffic plan is implemented met last Thursday with John Jones, Assistant City Manager, to hear about an alternative plan that he and Director of Public Works/City Engineer Roland Flowers developed. In their introduction to their plan, they said: "Our professional opinion from an engineering traffic flow and overall community view point is that the current plan, if implemented, could cause severe traffic problems in the area, would be a safety risk to residents of the area, would be detrimental to the quality of life and safety of residents of the Bahama Village community as a whole, and could result in the overall degradation of a historical residential community."That's the traffic plan that will come before the City Commission for approval on September 6 -- unless it is replaced by a different one.

The workshop didn't unfold as I hoped it might. I and some others spent a lot of time working on a document that we hoped might frame the issues in such a way that several -- it turned out to be four -- broad options could be considered at the workshop.

I expected to see John Jones and Roland Flowers, the City staff authors of the alternative plan. Instead, the only City staff members present were Raymond Archer, Director of Port Operations for the City, and Doug Bradshaw, the LRA Project Manager for the Truman Waterfront Park. Port Operations operates out of a small complex of modular buildings on the Waterfront property and oversees the Truman Waterfront, and various other City waterfront properties, such as the Garrison Bight Marina, the Key West Bight, and Mallory Square. Bradshaw works in that organization.

I approached Commissioner Turner before the meeting and asked if I might have ten minutes to show the audience the four options. (I sent them to her the day before the meeting). She said no, that "the workshop is not for any one group". I argued a little, but it was by then obvious that she had an agenda different than ours. We handed out a one-page summary of the four options before and during the meeting, so most every one in the audience was working off those definitions. Commissioner Turner attempted to ignore the four options, saying that she didn't have time to look at them (I sent them to her the day before).

In the end, though, the group of about fifty citizens present came to consensus on several things: that the City's plan as it currently stands doesn't work; that a partial solution is for the City to recover its historical right to passage on Southard Street; that the City staff alternate plan is also a partial solution to traffic issues; and there was some sentiment for restricting traffic by sharply reducing the planned parking from the 436 spaces that are planned.

Here, briefly, are the four options:

Option A: The current plan before the LRA & Commission. Vehicles Enter and Exit on Truman, Petronia; Exit on Truman, Olivia and Southard; Bicycles and Walkers only on Angela. Southard entrance for government vehicles and cruise ship transports only. 436 parking spaces in park.

Option B: Alternative plan from City staff. Vehicle entrance on Petronia, Exit on Angela. Other entrances at Truman, Enter and Exit at Olivia, Geraldine. Public exit at Southard, entrance for government vehicles and cruise ship transports. 436 parking spaces remain. Southard still restricted for public entrance.

Option C: Eliminate most inside parking (Parks are for People). Encourage pedestrian and bicycle traffic, provide public transportation from remote parking. Through traffic via Southard for Fort Taylor and cruise ships.

Option D: Recover Southard St. from TAMPOA through negotiation, or Eminent Domain. Southard Street is Primary entrance and exit.

Approval of the traffic portion of the Master Plan comes before the Commission again on September 6. It might be the last opportunity to save what's left of Bahama Village.

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