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Residents appeal Sugarloaf housing project

A group of Sugarloaf Key homeowners have appealed an approval by the Monroe County Planning Commission of a development of an 88-unit housing project at the entrance to the South Point neighborhood in Sugarloaf Shores.

The residents have also filed a petition to Monroe County Commission, who will hear the appeal, by 672 owners and full-time residents in Sugarloaf Shores opposing the project called the Dockside & the Landings Apartments. Key West restaurateur Joe Walsh has partnered with the South Florida-based Rural Neighborhoods on the project.

The residents oppose an 88-unit housing project at this location, but would not oppose the project if it included not more than 40 dwelling units with no portion of the land reserved for future development, according to the residents, who have formed a group called the Lower Density for Lower Sugarloaf.

“We have tried for years now to get the developers to reduce the density and scale of this project to be more consistent with the existing development on South Point and to reduce the number of vehicles that would be added to the neighborhood,” the group wrote in a letter to the mayor and Monroe County commissioners. “The developers have refused to reduce the number of units.”

Last year, the group hired a Fort Lauderdale-based real estate development finance consultant, with substantial experience advising developers of affordable housing projects in Florida, to advise group members on whether the size of this project could be reduced, yet still provide a market return for the developers, according to the group. The consultant has advised the group that a 40-unit project covering the entire area of the parcels would produce a market return, Sugarloaf Shores resident Stuart Schaffer said.

“We are not proposing 40 units as the starting point for a negotiation,” Schaffer said. “Forty is the maximum number of units we will accept.”

The Monroe County Commission can require a reduction in the number of dwelling units in this project and to require that no portion of the land be reserved for future development, Schaffer said.

“We hope you will exert that authority in the best interests of the residents of the Lower Keys,” the group stated in its letter to the county commission. “We ask that each of you drive out to South Point to take a look at the parcels and the adjacent residential neighborhood. Please try to make a left-hand turn from South Point Drive onto the Overseas Highway, where there is no traffic signal, and imagine the impact of adding more than 200 vehicles to this location, with the vast majority of them turning left onto the highway as they commute to work in Key West or Stock Island.”

Monroe County Mayor Michelle Coldiron, who represents Sugarloaf Shores, said the project meets all of the county requirements.

“They have the right to build it,” said Coldiron, who ran on campaign of creating more affordable housing.

Coldiron argued that the more rural areas of the Keys like Sugarloaf Key need workers too, saying “not everyone who would be living there would be working out Key West.”

After listening to hours of public testimony, mostly from Sugarloaf Key residents opposing the project, the Planning Commission voted 5-0 in December to recommend granting a major conditional use permit for the project. The Monroe County Commission still has to approve some of the plans for the project before construction begins.

The project comes as the Keys are undergoing an affordable housing crisis, according to local leaders. The county has made developing workforce housing a priority.


Exhibit showcases diving through lens of pop culture

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has hampered some tourism and business in the Florida Keys, Islamorada’s History of Diving Museum is open for business and planning to launch a new temporary exhibit the third week of April.

Titled “Diving in Pop Culture” the exhibit will display an exploration of all kinds of diving throughout the history of film, literature and mainstream media in general. Featured are B-movies such as “Creature from the Black Lagoon” to forward-thinking classics such as Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” to which the museum already has devoted has an entire room. Other examples of diving in media that the museum’s executive director Lisa Mongelia gave were the films “Jaws,” “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” and the 1950s television drama “Sea Hunt.”

To go along with the new exhibit, the museum will be partnering with the Monroe County School District to organize a kids’ book club. Mongelia said students will be able to receive science-related books through the club, and Skype with the author. For some kids, she said, it will be the first book they own because of the increasingly digital nature of the educational system.

“Diving in Pop Culture” will run through December, and Mongelia said next year’s exhibit will be fantasy themed and focus on all types of myths and lore surrounding the sea and diving.

The last exhibit to occupy the museum’s temporary space was the third consecutive “Art of the Abyss,” held in collaboration with the Art Guild of the Purple Isles. It displayed student and local art related to the deep sea and diving and ran through mid-March.

Along with the upcoming temporary exhibit, the museum is offering all of its usual collection of diving history. From replicas of the earliest diving bells to vintage underwater cameras and commercial diving helmets. It also has a library of diving-related books and journals dating back to the 16th century, which is open to the public.

The museum’s permanent collection already features some examples of diving in media. Newspaper articles from as far back as the 1930s about pioneer divers can be seen on the walls. One aspect of this show that Mongelia intends to discuss during the “Diving in Pop Culture” exhibit is Zale Parry’s role in “Sea Hunt.” Parry was a well-known underwater photographer and actress at the time, and was even featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated for her work. Despite being the most qualified diver on the set of the show, she often was portrayed as a helpless “damsel in distress” as Mongelia put it.

The museum has had to make adjustments in order to keep in alignment with coronavirus guidelines. Fortunately, Mongelia said, the museum’s traffic already flows in one direction, so groups are able to keep together easily and there is little space to cross paths with people outside one’s party.

The museum was forced to close temporarily when the pandemic first broke out, but it has not had to lay off any staff. Mongelia said business is now “inching back” to pre-pandemic levels.

The History of Diving Museum is located at 82990 Overseas Highway in Islamorada.

For information, visit https://www.divingmuseum.org/.


Tavernier man arrested for sexual offenses

A 59-year-old Tavernier man wanted in an incident that occurred in the Upper Keys in January in which he sexually assaulted a woman was located in Collier County, Florida, this week by the U.S. Marshals Service.

Alejandro Luis Dewelde remained in a Collier County, Florida, jail on charges of attempted sexual battery, two counts of battery, indecent exposure of sexual organs and false imprisonment.

The incident was reported on Jan. 6, 2021, at an apartment complex on the 90000 block of the Overseas Highway.

Dewelde closed a door in this apartment, grabbed the 23-year-old victim by the shoulders and pushed her onto a bed. The victim yelled no and attempted to get Dewelde off of her. He attempted to pull down her pants but was not successful. Dewelde then masturbated while pinning the victim down, reports state. He allowed her to leave thereafter.

The victim’s boyfriend later confronted Dewelde. Dewelde admitted that he attempted to have sex with the victim, and a fight ensued. One of the battery charges is because Dewelde hit the victim’s boyfriend.

Major Crimes detectives were assigned the case, and warrants were obtained for Dewelde’s arrest.

Dewelde will be brought to Monroe County to face the charges.

The City of Key West recently proclaimed April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

The designation calls attention to the fact that sexual violence is widespread and impacts every person in this community, and the goal of the proclamation is to raise public awareness about sexual violence and educate communities on how to prevent it.

The proclamation was accepted by Darlene Thomas, president of the Key West chapter of the National Organization for Wome,n and Christine Depre. Depre serves as Sexual Assault Response Team Coordinator and Advocate for Christina’s Courage, a non-profit that provides support for victims of sexual abuse.

Nationally, one in five women and one in 67 men will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. Additionally, child sexual abuse prevention is a priority for all genders, as incidents of sexual assault has increased on school campuses, as well as the military, according to recent studies.

“Our words shape the world around us,” reads the proclamation. “Whether you speak out against locker room talk or help someone better understand these issues, your voice in powerful and necessary in this conversation.”

Sheriff making push to curb opioids in Keys

While the ongoing pandemic is the prominent health crisis at the moment, Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay is warning about a lingering, insidious public health emergency: opioid addiction.

In recent weeks, the arrest log has seen a large number of local arrests for trafficking, dealing and possession of drugs such as oxycodone and heroin, as well as cocaine and sometimes even methamphetamine, which Ramsay said never used to appear in the Florida Keys.

Speaking from his office at the Marathon substation recently, Ramsay pointed out a woman being brought down the hallway in handcuffs, arrested that day for dealing. She is one who Ramsay describes as a “frequent flyer” with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.

With the drug influx, the department added a drug-sniffing canine to its force a few months ago. K9 Coral, as the dog is known, has been busy since joining, according to Ramsay. In fact, Coral has been so successful that Ramsay plans to add another dog soon and assign it to the traffic enforcement division.

Since March 27, several people have been arrested after being pulled over for a routine traffic stop when officers discovered large amounts of drugs and sometimes money in their vehicle. Alexandra Lisa Artiles, of Marathon, was arrested April 5 when she was pulled over for an obstructed license plate on Grassy Key and a search of the vehicle revealed 220 oxycodone pills and over $1,500 in cash. The night before that, Stock Island resident Glenn Steven Hanes was arrested after being stopped near mile marker 84 for driving with no tail lights illuminated. The vehicle smelled strongly of marijuana, according to deputies, and a search found almost 10 ounces of methamphetamine and almost 15 grams of cocaine, along with marijuana. Jerome Sanders, of Miami, was pulled over for speeding March 27 on Big Pine Key and was arrested for possession of heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine.

Ramsay said this is part of a trend that is being seen all over the nation, caused by corruption within the pharmaceutical and medical industries, in which patients were prescribed large amounts of highly addictive painkillers for minor pain and became dependent on them in the process. If unable to obtain more pills, they would sometimes turn to illegal narcotics when they were unable to kick the addiction.

“Studies show as much as 80% of people who are addicted to heroin at one time had a legal prescription from a doctor for pain management,” Ramsay said. “At some point in time the doctors no longer filled those scripts. For the longest time you were seeing the most prescribed drug across the nation was Oxycontin. These were being prescribed across the nation by doctors for every type of pain imaginable. Minor stuff, oxys.”

Ramsay said that Purdue Pharma, the company that manufactures Oxycontin, made a marketing push to get doctors to prescribe the drug that he says is 10 times as addictive as crack cocaine, and that the state of Florida had huge amounts of “pill mills,” medical professionals who pushed unwarranted amounts of addictive medication on patients. As a result, the Florida Keys are now feeling the effects, with illegal drugs being brought in from the Miami area and distributed.

Once law enforcement, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Florida Attorney General began to take legal action against doctors for these copious prescriptions, many of them ceased prescribing Oxycontin, but for many residents, from all walks of life, they were already harboring a severe addiction.

For a time, according to Ramsay, the department saw a large amount of home burglary calls where the only things missing were items from the medicine cabinet. Some people would go to their doctor to ask for a new prescription, after having gone through theirs, but a doctor was only allowed to write a prescription for the painkillers every 28 days. So the doctor would recommend reporting the drugs stolen so the patient could get more.

“We had people who were coming here to report crimes, saying ‘someone stole my medicine.’ We’re like ‘bullcrap.’ We’re not taking all these reports which will run up our crime stats and take time for officers to write bogus reports so you can use that report to get more drugs. We told doctors to stop sending people to us.”

The problem is so bad at this point that Ramsay’s officers (and in many other departments) carry Narcan, a drug that can mitigate the effects of an opioid overdose, potentially saving lives. Lots of heroin is now laced with fentanyl, which according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Narcan is not only to administer to the public, but to his officers after touching powdery substances, since fentanyl can be absorbed through the skin and sometimes through a rubber glove, according to Ramsay, and very small amounts can be lethal.

Ramsay said more drugs than ever are coming into communities and he hopes to push back as much as possible, though he said the war on drugs is not winnable. The best result would be reducing the negative effects, he said. He is planning to use his canines more and has directed his officers to be diligent when looking for signs of drug use or possession during traffic stops. Ramsay also recently hired a new director for the narcotics unit, Vince Weiner, who he says has a “wealth of knowledge and experience” in law enforcement. The dogs were bought at Weiner’s request.

Ramsay compares the effort to stop drug use to America’s war in Afghanistan. It is long, ongoing and likely will not be solved.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Where there is a demand, there is a supply. Doesn’t matter if it’s Prohibition, they didn’t stop alcohol. When there’s a prohibition on illegal drugs, it’s never stopped them,” Ramsay said. “There’s so much money here, there’s too much financial reward for people who don’t want to get a real job. They figure if they get arrested, it’s just part of doing business. I’ll do my time and get out.”


Seven-Mile Bridge Run returns on Saturday

The Seven-Mile Bridge Run returns on Saturday, April 17, after a hiatus due to COVID-19.

Motorists and residents should plan accordingly and help spread the word as the bridge will be shut down in both directions for three hours, according to Monroe County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Adam Linhardt.

Plan to be across the bridge by 6 a.m. to avoid being stuck on one side or the other.

Traffic flow will resume at approximately 9 a.m.

Motorists and residents should expect delays, Linhardt said.

Runners will start from the west side of the bridge and run toward the east side of the bridge this year.

Spectators will not be allowed.

For information, visit http://www.7mbrun.com.

U.S. 1 Radio listing April 16

Florida Keys Environmental Coalition Executive Director Barry Wray discusses his organization’s concerns about the release of genetically modified mosquitoes in the Keys.

Also on today’s show:

• J.W. Cooke, Key West Citizen Managing Editor

• Mike Forster, Monroe County Commissioner

• Chris Seymour, Key West Citizen Executive Editor

• Theresa Axford, Monroe County Schools Superintendent

• Dave Turner, Key Colony Beach City Administrator

• Steve Estes, News Barometer Editor and Publisher