Understanding this Oceanside/Ocean’s Edge situation is really important I think. Lots of moving parts, lots of players. As discussed in the Land Scarcity Chessboard posts (here, here, here and here), there’s only a finite amount of land that can be developed, and many competing demands.
There are a slew of documents guiding development in the Keys. There are local laws and ordinances, of course. But there are also limitations imposed by the Keys status as an area of critical state concern. In addition, there’s the county’s comprehensive plan and numerous “Livable CommuniKeys Plans“. I’m sure it can be confusing to administer and oversee, especially for the easily-confused, dim bulbs on the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC). But you know and I know, all of these documents are based on a few recurring themes.
- Avoid overcrowding and excessive traffic. In most places, this is a quality of life issue. In the Keys, it’s life or death. If there’s a big storm coming, people need to get out. They can’t be trapped by grid lock.
- Maintaining the economy. The environment is the economy. This is true everywhere, but it’s especially true in the Keys. Most people in the Keys make their living off two industries – tourism and fishing. Mostly tourism. Both those industries rely on a healthy marine environment.
- Maintaining the workforce. This is correlated with number two. You need people to wait on the tourists, clean their rooms, entertain them, put a band-aid on their boo-boos, etc. You need people to pull lobster traps, maintain boats, etc. Those people need to live somewhere. There needs to be adequate workforce housing. There needs to be dock space for the fishing boats and space to store lobster traps.
- Quality of life. If you’re going to live and work in the Keys, you want decent schools for your kids, recreational opportunities, access to the water, etc. If all you’re going to do is trudge from work to home, why live in the Keys at all? You can do that anywhere – and it would be a lot cheaper.
- Protecting endangered habitats. This is correlated to number one. The Keys are home to several unique threatened and endangered species. If you pave over the entire Keys, they’re gone. Forever.
With that out of the way, I’ll tell you where I’m coming from.
- I worked for a developer once upon a time. People need places to live, places to shop, places to work, etc. Developers are often portrayed as one-dimensional villains, but the reality is that they provide a necessary service and take a substantial amount of financial risk doing it.
- I’ve owned property in the Keys since 2004, but I’m not a “got-miner”. I’m not one of those who wants to lock the gate behind me. People will always want to live in the Keys, visit the Keys, buy property in the Keys, etc. I get that.
- I recognize that individual property rights have to be balanced with the needs of the community. You can’t put a strip club next to an elementary school. (Well…maybe if you know the right county commissioner.)
- Monroe County has a shady history when it comes to managing development. You’ll recall that county commissioner, Jack London, was arrested for accepting a bribe in connection with the Halls Resort development. The same matter also netted former county attorney, Jim Hendricks. Mr. Hendricks was sentenced to probation and disbarred, but re-emerged as a consultant acting on behalf of would-be developers up and down the Keys.
All that said – here’s why I’m concerned about the Oceanside/Ocean’s Edge matter:
- It doesn’t appear that the project achieves any of the stated objectives of the county’s numerous documents guiding development. According to a press release from Ocean’s Edge, the property consists of 175 guest rooms and suites. The original development agreement called for 46 affordable residential dwelling units, and 78 residential/vacation rental units. That’s a total of 124 units, 46 of which are supposed to be permanent dwellings – ie. places for locals to live. How did that morph into 175 hotel rooms?
- There are echoes of the Halls Development fiasco that took down former county commissioner Jack London. First, some of the same players are involved – namely Jim Hendricks. He apparently defended the legality of “lock-out” units. Second, in that situation the commissioner was susceptible to bribery because a lien had been placed on a property he owned in Ireland. Sound familiar? Wouldn’t the stakes be even higher if the tax lien was placed on your primary residence? The concerned public needs to be on heightened alert here.
- If the BOCC is inconsistent in how it applies the rules, they open up the taxpayers to unnecessary lawsuits and related legal expenses. Not that the BOCC cares. I sure do though. They’ve wasted enough of our money already.
For all these reasons, I’m going to some effort to figure this out. It’s not my field and I’m definitely in over my head, but I think all concerned citizens need to understand this, no matter how obscure the county tries to make it. I made a document tracking sheet, which I discussed here. It lists and provides links to all the relevant documents I can find, and it puts them into a timeline. I think that helps me (and hopefully others) understand what the heck is really going on here.
I also went ahead and made a map of the affected area. I plan to expand that to include the sender sites and the right-of-way abandonments. According to what I’ve gathered from the documents, the Ocean’s Edge site includes…
- the infamous Hickory House property is shown in yellow. As you might recall this property was purchased by the county for over $3 million in 2008, and sold to Pritam Singh for $2 million in 2014.
- the former Oceanside Marina shown in green, was home to live-aboards, marine tourism businesses, etc. All purposes that suited Monroe County’s stated land use aims. No longer.
- a vacant commercial lot, shown in blue.
The Ocean’s Edge development also affects another property in the area. That would be Oceanside Condominiums. That one is shown in pink. If you read the Blue Paper, you might be aware that this 22-unit condominium is the subject of a great deal of controversy surrounding the status of the units as vacation rentals.
All very interesting.