After almost 20 years in discussion, Key West City Commissioners have given a final vote to rezone a 3.2-acre land parcel in Bahama Village slated to be developed as affordable workforce housing.
The 5-1 vote creating a new historic neighborhood commercial district — HNC-4 — paves the way for planning to begin on a proposed 120-unit affordable housing complex designed for working individuals and families in Bahama Village. The next step is to begin the formal planning process, which will include seeking a developer or organization to partner with the city on the design and construction.
Commissioner Sam Kaufman attempted to pass an amendment to the ordinance reducing the maximum number of market rate rental units from 28 per acre to 16. Because of the difficulty of finding a for-profit developer willing to take on an affordable housing project, with its attendant lower monthly rental fees, the ordinance allows city officials to grant a so-called “bonus density” to increase the number of housing units per acre from the current 16 to 40, as long as the housing is designated as “workforce.” That density bonus could allow up to 84 of the proposed 120 units to be rented at the prevailing market rate, which in Key West is quite high compared to other communities in the Florida Keys.
“I just can’t imagine a scenario where we would allow any proposal with 84, on three acres, 84 market units on that land,” Kaufman said. “I don’t understand why we have a density bonus for market rate units.”
But Key West Planning Director Katie Halloran said the density bonus allowances were intended to incentivize potential developers to consider the project. The density bonus maximum could be negotiated lower once an interested developer comes forward, she said.
“I believe [the ordinance] was drafted as you see today in order to allow that maximum flexibility of partnerships,” Halloran said.
“The basis was to leave as many options open as possible,” agreed City Manager Greg Veliz.
Kaufman’s amendment was voted down 1-5. The subsequent rezoning ordinance was then approved by a reversed 5-1 vote, with Kaufman voting no.
A total of 11 properties that join Bahama Village to the new Truman Waterfront Park are included in the new HNC-4 district, including the 3.2-acre parcel, the new health center under construction on Fort Street in Bahama Village, the former Keys Energy Diesel Plant and several currently vacant land parcels just north of the abandoned diesel plant.
One potential partner for the 3.2-acre development announced recently was AH Monroe, Inc., a local non-profit agency with experience building affordable housing for low-income residents with medical challenges. The unsolicited offer from AH was to build 120 units of affordable housing with no market rate units included. The proposal also suggested an 80-20 mix, with 80% of the units being rental and the remaining 20% sold to first-time homeowners.