Thursday, February 28, 2008

As Others See Us

A recent visitor writes:
I loved Key West. I want to tell you that the best money we spent there was to rent an electric golf car. When you get off the dock there will be several Electric cars that say on them "Free ride to rent electric cars". Take the ride and you will not be sorry. They are so fun to drive and they helped us see everything in the little time that we had there. The butterfly exhibit was very pretty. Lots of butterflies! We enjoyed riding around and looking at everything. The beaches were beautiful! You will not regret the $100.00 spent for the 6 hrs rental!

What isn't known to the tourist is that the electric cars that swarm downtown when there's a cruise ship in port are all engaging in an illegal activity. It's called "Off Premise Canvassing" and it requires a City license that isn't available to the rental companies. They violate the law -- some of them do -- by driving around in the three or four blocks closest to the cruise ship piers, cars emblazoned with the "Free Ride" message in hope of being flagged down. Some jockey early in the morning to park in the few metered parking spots on Front Street in front of the Custom House, using monthly parking permits that they aren't supposed to have to tie up the parking meters that are intended for tourists and other shorter-term parkers.

The mill of the City Commission is grinding, slowly as is typical, to correct the ordinances that regulate such things.

The Key West City Code of Ordinances is a dense, legalistic codification of just about everything that is regulated (and just about everything IS regulated). In 33 Chapters and numerous other codifications, from Administration to Zoning, the minutiae of City operations are described, prescribed, proscribed, and transcribed. One City department, Code Compliance, exists to ensure that no one builds outside the lines, paints in a wrong color, feeds a stray chicken -- anything that might violate some standard that has been established as required or prohibited.

There is an industry based on complying with or getting around the codes. Lawyers and planners are successful or not depending on whether they can consistently overcome the hurdles set up in the codes. Uber-developer Ed Swift is currently attempting to have approved a transfer of transient rental licenses to a property that he owns on Simonton Street, nine rental apartments over commercial space, because he isn't able to rent them for a sufficiently-expensive amount to, I suppose, cover the mortgages. He proposes to buy those licenses from another uber-developer, Pritam Singh, who is just finishing converting the former Hampton Inn into Parrot Bay Resort and Condominiums. Two actions taken over two years ago paved the way for this attempt. One was when Singh secured an exception to the Transient Rental Transfer ordinance, allowing him to transfer his surplus licenses from the Parrot Bay development out of the zoning district where they are located, something that the ordinance explicitly bans. That will probably wind up in court. In the meantime, the applicant, Singh and the receiver, Swift, ask for delay after delay at the Planning Board, knowing perhaps that they don't have the votes lined up to get approval.

The other was a revision to the zoning code that added transient rentals as a permitted use in certain parts of Old Town where they previously weren't allowed. That one slid through under a prior Planning Board and City Commission with some clever wording and a suspect justification (the details of which will take more investigation).

Some of the ordinances are honored more in the breach than in enforcement. The more egregious violations are punished; the less egregious are let slide. We have an Open Container ordinance that prohibits carrying any open container of alcohol beyond the boundaries of the establishment in which it is purchased. To go cups aren't legal either. But it seems that the only ones ever charged with a violation are either street people or others who behave stupidly.

The KWPD issued a warning a few weeks ago that they were going to begin "diligently" enforcing bicycle laws that require bicyclists to obey traffic lights, use front and rear lights at night, observe of one way signs, and so forth. They haven't, probably can't, and ultimately the issue will fade out and another will take its place.

And so it goes. I'm probably spending too much time reading ordinances, but its the only way to understand what the rascals are up to.


Anonymous said...

I'm sure that "tourist" who posted that was somebody from one of the Electric Car rental companies here. They'll do anything (clog up Clinton Square, spam blogs, etc) to sell their product.....

Anonymous said...

Speaking of the bicycle "crackdown", since they hyped that again recently I've actually started trying to come closer to following the "rules of the road" as I trek around town on my beat up rusty old girls bicycle. It's HARD to actually stay still at a red-light when there are no cars in sight on either of the cross streets!

But I'm actually starting to get used to it. Just like I did several years ago when I started actually putting lights on our bicycles for night riding. And keeping charged batteries in them. I think I'll get used to stopping for ALL of the red lights (not just the ones where I'd get run over if I didn't) eventually.

And then I can smile smuggly at the tourist getting honked at as he almost gets run over while crossing in front of a green-lighted truck, without being the one behind him who also misjudged how quickly that truck was going to get to the intersection....

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