Thursday, September 06, 2007

City Commission

The Key West City Commission's marathon session last night was mostly about affordable housing. Former Mayor Dennis Wardlow made a presentation sponsored by Mayor Morgan McPherson on an outside-the-box idea for using boxes as affordable housing, not just any boxes but surplus shipping containers which, it seems, are a glut on the market in America. It's not as wacky as it might sound.

It might be hard to get this one past HARC, but there are other designs that are more "conch-ish".

During the City Manager's report, Commissioner Dan Kolhage took Manager Scholl to the woodshed, accusing him of "a failure to communicate", criticizng the Manager for not notifying Commissioners of incidents occuring in their districts. Kolhage's concerns were echoed by several other Commissioners. Scholl promised that he would do better in the future.

Another item on the consent agenda commited the City to "participation in the National Call to Action for Affordable Housing Through Regulatory Reform. This one was also sponsored by the Mayor, who is pinning his re-election hopes on the notion that he just needs more time to be able to effect his housing vision for building a whole bunch of affordable/workforce housing on publicly-owned land in various places on the island. Here's what HUD's website has to say about the purpose of the Call to Action:

Over the years, HUD has found that regulations such as out-of-date building codes, duplicative or time-consuming design review or approval processes, burdensome rehabilitation codes, restrictive or exclusionary zoning ordinances, unnecessary or excessive fees or taxes, extreme environmental restrictions, and excessive or "gold-plated" land development standards, all contribute to higher housing costs and production delays.

Sounds like a Republican progam to me, and McPherson is a Republican. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Later, Commissioners voted to approve construction by AIDS Help, Inc. of 14 individual living units, called a "rest home" in order to slide by building code regulations that would otherwise prohibit construction of this many units in this location. It was an intensely emotional debate between proponents of AIDS Help and neighbors of the project who argued that it would overwhelm their quiet neighborhood. In the end, the vote was 7-0 to approve.

Next up was an ordinance to revise building codes to require that re-development projects build 30% of the project as long-term affordable, or pay an impact fee into the City's affordable housing trust fund. The ordinance parallels similar ordinances in Monroe County and Marathon. It passed on first reading but will come back to second reading with clarifications and changes asked for by the Commission.

The final item was an resolution calling for a City-wide referendum authorizing the City Commission to lease 6.6 acres of the Truman Waterfront Park to the Bahama Conch Community Land Trust for 99 years at $1 per year. Mayor McPherson spoke out against the resolution on the grounds that it would be a sole-source award to the BCCLT without competitive bidding. At that point emotions arose and BCCLT Executive Director wound up calling the Mayor's actions "unconscionable". BCCLT has successsfully built or rehabilitated over 50 units of affordable housing, mainly in Bahama Village. Some question whether the organization has the ability to carry out a project of the size and scope as described in its conceptual plan for the waterfront acreage. Commissioners ultimately approved the ordinance on first reading, with an understanding that the CLT will clean up the language of the referendum question (for clarity) prior to second reading. The organization's aim is to have the referendum appear on the ballot for a possible November run-off election or "as soon thereafter as practical".

Having voted, as they must, to allow the meeting to continue after 11:00 PM, Commissioners may or may not have completed their agenda. I don't know because I headed home immediately after that vote.

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