Keys Media Comparison – Lockouts


Update 2:  Here’s a press release from Ocean’s Edge about Ocean’s Edge.  The development is described as having 175 guest rooms and suites.  I’m having trouble squaring this with the affordable housing “crisis”.  Anyone else?

Update:  Here’s the latest from the Citizen.  The county commission decided not to investigate.  Shocker.  The good news is that State Attorney Dennis Ward attended the meeting, and asked county staff to provide a report on the project.  Perhaps there will be an investigation after all.

Once you see something, it’s  hard to unsee it.  Such is the case with Keys media weirdness.  I mostly comment on obvious, in-your-face falsehoods (Madok’s CPA license) or massive ball drops (Toppino’s conflicts of interest).  But there are other less dramatic instances of fact-skewing or spin that I notice, too.

I saw two in the online version of the Citizen today.  One is about “land use” issues.  The other is about Mayor Cates’s voting record.

The Citizen’s land use story is essentially a slanted and heavily sedated version of the Blue Paper’s ongoing Oceanside Marina coverage.  Latest here.  This video is the absolute best – fact-checking in action.  This is how it’s done!  I linked to a whole list of other Blue Paper Oceanside stories here.

I truly believe that the Citizen wants to be regarded as a real newspaper.  Just like Pinocchio wanted to be regarded as a real boy.  Of course, Pinocchio only became a real boy when he started telling the truth.  Sadly, the Citizen prefers to act as an obedient lap dog and run flattering and/or misleading stories.

Oceanside Marina apparently got around land use rules by creating the illusion of a loophole regarding lock-out units.  A fact that the Blue Paper uncovered with diligent research.  (A concept unknown to the Citizen.)  To make matters worse, it appears that county staff was complicit in the deception.  The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) is holding a meeting to broadcast their faux-concern over the matter.  The Blue Paper sums it up thusly.

The County Commission agenda for this Wednesday’s meeting at Key West’s Harvey Government Center does not address, in any way, the legality of the Oceanside development agreement. The Commission is, apparently, planning to pretend that the creation of separately rentable “lock-outs” without separate ROGOs was lawful when they allowed Mr. Singh to double the number of his “non-hotel rooms” from 79 to 158.  And they will try to save face by adopting a “lock-out moratorium” to close down this “loophole.”

So what’s the Citizen’s version of events?  Well, the county commission is going to discuss a whole bunch of land use issues.  Lock out units, floating signs and building heights.  Ho hum.  Move along.  Nothing to see here.  Here’s how the Citizen allows county commissioner Carruthers to finesse the issue.

Monroe County Commissioner Heather Carruthers has proposed a moratorium on lock-out units until the county planning staff can develop land-use regulations to better deal with them and their ability to allow developers to double their number of units and density.

“We need to figure out a better way to regulate this,” Carruthers said.

Lock-out units are typically large hotel room units with multiple entrances and separate rooms that can be rented out individually.

If the Blue Paper’s research is correct, then county staff lied under oath at a quasi-judicial hearing.  County attorney, Bob Shillinger, got his boxers in a bunch because outgoing Clerk Amy Heavilin deleted some emails during a regrettable housekeeping session.  Perhaps Heavilin’s action was nominally illegal, but not deliberately or maliciously so.  More an innocent mistake than an attempt to deceive or cover something up.  Shillinger himself admitted as much.  Even so, the state attorneys office is investigating.

If the possibility of a few mistakenly deleted emails calls for an investigation, then surely the possibility that staff lied under oath would as well, wouldn’t it?  Or the possibility that the county bent (broke?) the rules for a certain well-connected developer?

I won’t hold my breath waiting for Shillinger to fire up his laptop and write a fiery letter of condemnation though.  I have a feeling old Bob will be able to contain his outrage in this particular case.  In fact, I expect that after a tepid show of “handling” the situation, it will just disappear.

Here’s how the Citizen characterizes the emergence of the “lock-out” situation.

The concern about lock-out units comes in the wake of complaints about how developer Pritam Singh was able to turn 79 lock-out transient condo units into 158 separate hotel rooms at his new Ocean’s Edge Key West Hotel & Marina on Stock Island.

Uh…not exactly.  The concern came about because the Blue Paper exposed the scam.  In fact, here’s the Blue Paper’s description of an email from Comm. Carruthers to staff.

“Have you seen this article?” asked Commissioner Heather Carruthers in an email to the Planning Director, Mayte Santamaria, “Are the premises correct? Have we been hoodwinked? Or do they not have all the information? I think this warrants a response.”

Carruthers, with help from the Citizen, is trying to make all this look like an innocent boo-boo.  The county was “hoodwinked”.  We’re supposed to believe they’re the real victims here.  The heroes, too.  Look at them trying so hard to sort it all out.  They’re going to talk about it at a meeting and maybe close that “loophole”.

The Citizen has this to say about the legality of lock-outs.

County land-use regulations allow lock-out units. But the sheer number of units at Singh’s Ocean’s Edge resort has outraged even county commissioners who voted in favor of the project.

Well, I have my doubts about the “outrage”.  I think the commissioners got caught at something, and they’re nervous about possible consequences.  Besides the Citizen appears to be misstating the issue.  My understanding is that, yes, lock-out units are perfectly legal.  That’s not the issue in and of itself.

The Blue Paper’s take on this lock-out situation is quite different than the Citizen’s.  Here’s what they had to say.

The County Code is crystal clear: “Lock-outs” [called “accessory structures”] —“shall not include second dwelling units or any other habitable structures that are occupied by a separate and independent resident.” A “lockout” is “to serve an existing principal use or principal structure ……contribute to the comfort, convenience or necessity of occupants of the principal structure…. ” In fact, it appears that under no circumstances, in Monroe County, can a “lock-out” [without a separate ROGO] lawfully double as a separate rental unit.

Two conflicting statements.  Who is right?

Well, to substantiate their statement, the Blue Paper provided a link to the county’s comprehensive plan update, which was adopted April 13, 2016.  They also provided a 1998 memorandum of understanding with the Department of Community Affairs (DCA), as it was known then.  So this appears to be a long-standing rule.  The Blue Paper also forced a county official to admit that no similar units have been approved in at least six years.  (Apparently, some of them will tell the truth if cornered.)

Developers have launched a campaign of disinformation. Consigliere to the powerful, Jim Hendrick, was quoted in the Key West Citizen last week claiming, “Lock-units have been allowed ‘up and down the Keys’ for years.”

However, when The Blue Paper asked the County for “an official response” as to the location of any such developments, other than Oceanside Marina, where separately rentable “lock-outs” have been permitted by the County in the past, they couldn’t site one. “Since I have been with the County” [6 years], wrote Director of Planning, Mayte Santamaria, in an email, “I cannot think of another development.”

This appears to be another one of the Citizen’s ostensibly “correct” but misleading statements.  They’ve been busy demolishing their own credibility for years.

Here’s a link to the agenda item where the development was approved by the BOCC (5-0).  And here’s a link to the development agreement.  I also downloaded the documents.  You never know when  they might disappear.  (I don’t follow how 46 ROGO’s exploded to 175 hotel units.  I guess I’ll have to read through all the material again to figure that out.)

The other weird article is the one about Craig Cates and all his winning votes.  It really is something – a gratuitous display of boot-licking.  What are the readers supposed to take away from this?  How is this “good” or “bad” for the citizens?  I mean Cates pushed the purchase of Peary Court for $55 million.  That was ridiculous.  Who the hell would want to be on the “winning” side of that one?  What does “winning” mean in that scenario?

I’m getting a vibe that somebody held a gun to Scott Unger’s head and forced him to write a pro-Cates propaganda piece.  Or die.  Poor Scott scrambled to come up with something and this was all he could manage.

Oh, Key West Citizen, you’re a lost cause.



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