Key West City Commissioners have a full agenda for their meeting this week, including extending a ban on new permits for e-scooters and other electric rental vehicles, helping Mallory Square Sunset Celebration performers, and a decision more than five years in the making that would create a new affordable housing development in Bahama Village.
The in-person meeting will take place at 5 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 20, in Key West City Hall. However, people can still view and participate in the meeting virtually by calling 646-558-8656. Use meeting ID 972 6785 6458 and passcode 755043. The meeting can also be viewed on the city’s website, http://www.cityofkeywest-fl.gov or on Comcast Channel 77.
Four separate agenda items deal with a proposal to rezone 6.6 acres of vacant land in Bahama Village to create a new zoning district for a proposed affordable and market-rate housing development. The proposed ordinances, which if passed would become part of the city’s zoning map, affect contiguous vacant parcels along Fort, Geraldine and Angela streets in Bahama Village. The parcels adjoin the Truman Waterfront Park and are currently used as a recreational field.
The ordinances, which passed previously on first reading, create a new zoning district that would allow a 40-unit, mixed-income housing development aimed at moderate- and low-income rental tenants on 3.6 acres of the 6.6-acre total. Thirty percent of any new multifamily development on the land would be deed-restricted for affordable workforce housing.
The proposed plan also allows commercial development in the new district aimed at the redevelopment of blighted public parcels.
“The newly-created district would accommodate a variety of commercial uses: business and professional offices, low-intensity commercial retail, and medical services. In addition, under the conditional use process, it would allow for medium-intensity commercial retail, restaurants, and veterinary medical services. Several of these uses would not be permissible under the current zoning designations,” according to an executive summary written by Daniel Sobczak, Key West City Planner.
City commissioners will also vote on a proposed six-month extension to a previously approved six-month moratorium on new permits and licenses for motorized and non-motorized recreational rental vehicles, which include electric golf carts, e-scooters and e-bikes. Existing rental companies in Key West can continue regular operations but will not be allowed to increase their rental fleets, be it bicycles or electric vehicles.
The reason for the extension is because the coronavirus pandemic has delayed a requested traffic study to determine the impact of allowing more electric vehicles onto Key West streets.
Some existing recreational rental companies were concerned that city officials wanted to completely ban e-bikes and scooters when the original six-month moratorium went into effect. While electric vehicles have been eagerly embraced in the United States as a way for both local residents and tourists to easily traverse an area without resorting to cars, there have been growing concerns in other cities about e-scooters, which can be left anywhere for the next user to pick up and use, sometimes causing accidents and complaints.
But city commissioners said at that time they did not want to eliminate e-vehicles, only leave time for a traffic study looking at congested areas in Key West, particularly in the historic district. The study would be used to write new regulations governing the number, use and possible restricted areas and speed of the rental vehicles on city streets and sidewalks.
Commissioners will also look at a request from the Key West Cultural Preservation Society, which operates the nightly Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square, for a reduction in the fees it pays to the city for performers and vendors to operate there. Due to COVID-19 and a resulting drop in both Sunset Celebration performers and visitors, the organization is “dangerously close to being out of money,” according to an email from the Preservation Society to Mayor Teri Johnston.
“Our volunteer board (who are participants in the event) have seen the organization financially weakened to a crisis point. Our nightly number of participants … have declined due to the lack of tourists and also the fear of contracting COVID-19 from our visitors,” according to the Aug. 27 email.
As a result, city officials are proposing to drop the current Mallory Square rental fee from $200 a night to $500 a month for six months, covering up to 40 artists. The city is also proposing to offer eight free parking spots each night during the two-hour fest to artists and vendors, and install “large signage” near Mallory Square promoting the event.
If passed, the measures will cost the city $33,500 for six months of fee reductions and another $14,600 in lost parking revenue from the eight spots in the adjacent public parking lot, according to Assistant City Manager Patti McLauchlin.
“The pandemic shut down the event all together, but as we slowly re-open, there is a need to revitalize this monumental event,” McLauchlin wrote in her executive summary of the proposal.
The race to be the next District 3 Monroe County commissioner pits veteran and current county mayor Heather Carruthers, a Democrat, against political newcomer Eddie Martinez, a Republican.
The winner will help shepherd the county through some of its toughest times in recent decades. County leaders are still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic consequences. Commissioners are attempting to resolve a workforce housing crisis and struggling to find funding sources for its greatest challenge — sea level rise.
Martinez chose not answer telephone calls from The Key West Citizen or answer questions submitted to him via email.
Carruthers called sea level rise and how to fund mitigation projects the biggest challenge the county is facing. The County Commission plans to hold a November workshop on potential funding sources for sea level rise projects, which could potentially cost billions of dollars.
“It is a huge ticket item,” Carruthers said. “This could cost three times as much as it took to sewer the Keys and that was $930 million.”
Carruthers supported further research of a toll on U.S. 1, possible new half-cent of sales tax and looking at creating property tax districts throughout the county, which would allow residents in specific areas to decide if they want to be taxed to pay for sea level rise projects in those communities.
At a recent campaign forum, Martinez, a surveyor by trade, blamed the county for allowing development in low-lying, flood-prone areas such as Stillwright Point in Key Largo. He doubted county staff had expertise to oversee sea level rise projects, basically saying the county is going to build a “big ass bathtub” around Key Largo.
At the same campaign forum, Martinez and Carruthers supported placing a toll on U.S. 1.
Martinez, who unsuccessfully ran for the Upper Keys Mosquito Control District seat in 2014, said the county could take back U.S. 1 and “not have to deal with FDOT (Florida Department of Transportation).” He proposed possibly a $20 toll.
Carruthers, who is in her third term, cautioned against the county taking over the federal highway that is managed by FDOT, given how much it would cost to maintain it. She cited costs to replace and retrofit all the 46 bridges in the Keys, arguing that it would cost a half-billion dollars alone to replace the Seven-Mile Bridge.
The District 6 FDOT secretary is opposed to the toll and local leaders will have to go “above his paid grade” and directly to federal transportation officials and ask Congress for an exception, Carruthers said.
A big issue in all of three County Commission races this year is the county’s emergency pay plan for its employees who work during hurricanes and pandemics. The County Commission did recently amend its policy, taking the pay from double time to time and a half, but the commission did not take away the pay from department heads and supervisors.
Carruthers recently proposed taking away the emergency pay for supervisors and department heads and instead offering them comp time or days off. The commission plans to again address the pay issue at its January meeting.
Carruthers did add that the changes the commission made this year does make the county’s plan one of the “least generous” of local government agencies.
Development will be major issue during the next term. Carruthers and Commissioner Sylvia Murphy have been the only two commissioners on the County Commission to oppose taking the 300 new Rate of Growth Ordinance (ROGO) units the state has offered to give the county and each of the Keys cities. ROGO units are needed to turn vacant lots into homes.
“I am not ready to accept them,” Carruthers said.
The county still has ROGO units in its pool and the county should look at moving ROGO units out of the market-rate pool and into its affordable pool, Carruthers argued. Carruthers would also like to continue to lobby the state government to set up property tax exemptions for property owners in the Keys who rent to workers at affordable rates, she said.
Martinez and Carruthers will square off in the Nov. 3 general election. Early voting has started and runs every day starting at 8:30 a.m. and ending at 5 p.m. early voting ends three days before Election Day.
Henry Rosenthal became the de facto winner of Islamorada Village Council seat 4 after incumbent Ken Davis passed away Sept. 12 from a heart attack.
Rosenthal has previously offered to serve the Keys community in a political capacity, but this is the first time he’ll get the chance. He ran for the Monroe County Board of Commissioners in 1982, losing to Alison Fahrer by one vote, 7,777 to 7,778. In 2010, he ran as the only Democrat to face four others for the Dist. 4 Monroe County Commissioner seat; Mike Forster was among his competitors. Also, in 1986, he challenged attorney Ron Saunders and Wilhelmina Harvey of Key West in the state representative race, which Saunders won.
A performing mentalist, who traveled to Las Vegas and Branson, Missouri for years, Rosenthal uses his mental perception skills to pinpoint what others are thinking. He has been hired as an advisor for jury selection due to these skills. In the past, he has hypnotized people onstage and determined what they are thinking, and often shares his talent in fundraisers for organizations, such as the Florida Keys Children’s Shelter (he raised $10,000 through a show in Key West), scholarship funds for Island Christian School and Coral Shores High School, and the Moose Lodge in Islamorada, when it was on the brink of closing nearly five years ago.
He started performing magic behind bars — when he was a bartender, that is. It was a way to make money, he said. He subsequently traveled the world performing “mental magic” in 22 countries, including in Germany, when the Berlin Wall came down. He was centerstage in the first theatrical show in Berlin after East Berlin opened up to foreigners.
Russ Cullen of the Upper Keys and Rosenthal were partners back in the 1960s in Ocean City, Maryland. Rosenthal leased one of the bars there and gave Cullen $500 rent at the end of the summer season in 1961. Returning the following April, that was his gig for about four years. Raised in Baltimore, it was the mid-1960s when Rosenthal sold everything he owned and headed to the Keys, ending up as owner of the Key Largo Hotel. Rosenthal wasn’t particularly enamored with the Keys back in the day: “It was just a bunch of woods,” he thought, never intending to make it his permanent home.
Rosenthal credits Cullen for his eventual choice of the Keys as his home. Back then, he recalled there was one cop serving Layton to Ocean Reef, and when a letter was addressed simply to “Henry Rosenthal, Key Largo, Fla.,” the letter actually made it to him — and he had only been in the Keys two weeks. Rosenthal said he came here with $500 in his pocket, and he went to work the evening he arrived. He has been here 54 years now.
In 1966, he worked at Jerry’s Sunset Inn (now the Sunset Inn) at Mile Marker 82. Then came stints at Harry’s Bar, Conch Restaurant, Marker 88 and Whale Harbor Inn, Restaurant and Marina, most as owner/operator. But, he also worked in retail, which took him from Biscayne Boulevard in Miami to Key West serving Burdines and Jordan Marsh, among other department stores. In 1976, he purchased and operated the iconic Green Turtle Restaurant, which he sold in 2004. He admitted he was not the easiest person to work for, because he wanted things just so, but he tried to pay well to keep his staff happy. To help publicize the Green Turtle initially, Rosenthal bought the local cab company, a one-car operation from “Don.” He promptly changed the name to Green Turtle Cab and became known for actually showing up; mostly he wanted the visibility for his restaurant.
The Lower Matecumbe Key resident has served on many boards throughout the county and has chaired or led every one of them at one time or another, including Islamorada Chamber of Commerce from 1982-1995; Federation of Chambers of Commerce; Monroe County Advertising Commission; American Red Cross; Fraternal Order of Police Association 1982-1984; Matecumbe Historical Trust from which he earned the Life Membership Award in 2004; Upper Keys Rotary earning the Service Above Self Award; Florida Keys Children’s Shelter earning the Star Builder Award, Leadership Monroe County, Florida Keys Aqueduct Consumer Advisory Council, March of Dimes, and others.
As the performer “Bastille,” he maintained a busy performance schedule during the decades, alongside luminaries such as Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami in 1994, as well as in Las Vegas and Branson. He was under contract with Carnival Cruise Line from 1991-2003, and since then has been a member of the Psychic Entertainers’ Association, an international organization of the best mentalists in the world.
In Vegas, he met Christine, his partner of 16 years now. She was doing hypnosis onstage and making $10,000 a show — and the most he ever earned in Vegas was half that, he said with admiration.
Rosenthal intends to work his magic on making the Founders Park area pedestrian bridge disappear, but that may be a real trick. In the works since 2018 and approved by council Islamorada resolutions, only a quarter of Islamorada residents in a candidates poll were against it, according to fellow candidate Jenny Bell-Thomson.
Rosenthal’s next act is serving the community he has lived in for more than five decades.
Meeting in person for the first time in months, the Marathon City Council and residents gathered in City Hall on Oct. 13 for its regular meeting, which included accepting the resignation of Manager Chuck Lindsey. An air-conditioning issue related to Hurricane Irma more than two years ago prevented the meeting being broadcast in real time; however, a recording was made and is available to the public.
Councilman Mark Senmartin asked that Lindsey’s severance package be pulled from the consent agenda. Totaling $112,000, Lindsey was awarded his unused sick pay and vacation time, as well as four months of salary and benefits. This is in line with what Attorney David Migut was given when he left. Lindsey, citing health issues as his reason for leaving, will be available through Dec. 31, but only in-person through the mid-November council meeting, and then virtually. Lindsey added that he would always be available to the city.
Mayor Steven Cook asked those at City Hall to rise and give a round of applause for Lindsey’s five years of service, and they did.
Councilman John Bartus said, “You’re the best of the bunch,” and that Lindsey was the right man at the right time for leading Marathon.
Senmartin said, “We’ve been fortunate to have you at the helm. [You’ve] helped guide us through some really tough times.”
In other city matters, Councilman Dan Zieg asked the manager to direct staff to address homeowners who neglect to retrieve their cans in a timely fashion. He said Sombrero Beach Road has some repeat offenders, and added, “We’ve kicked this can down the road long enough.”
Lindsey said while property managers have been contacted and interacted with, perhaps the actual property owners have to be contacted because the responsiveness of the property managers is problematic.
Code compliance department head Doug Lewis said, “We need more teeth in the ordinance.” The council asked him to look at other municipalities’ ordinances and come back to council with a solution. Staff and council input varied from giving homeowners a break on the first citation but invoking fines after that to invoking a substantial fine from the first citation onward. Losing their rental license also was a possibility.
Senmartin’s request that the city address overly bright lights and light pollution led to council agreement that the city should address “nuisance lighting,” as Lindsey called it at residential and commercial properties as well as light pollution as a whole. Staff may reach out to the Turtle Hospital staff for input as well since lighting along coastlines can negatively affect turtles during their egg-laying season.
In his staff report, Utilities Director Dan Saus told the council to expect some phone calls because they are cracking down on people who have not paid their wastewater assessment or for wastewater treatment for a long period of time. He said the latter was due to a misunderstanding with the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority over billing when meter were changed, and that some homeowners were solely being charged for water.
Fire Chief John Johnson said the fire department seeks four new firefighters, and Harbormaster Sean Cannon said Boot Key Harbor is gearing up for season. He said due to increased pump-outs and patrolling, the water quality is great.
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