Let’s check in with Islamorada

Mark Gregg, Village of Islamorada Council Member, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM to talk about what’s been going on in the village.

The council might be looking at expanding the freebie ride service.

Gregg said, “It may be coming. I think we’ve put it off to a meeting near the end of the month. The freebie is wildly popular with the locals. Visitors are using it a lot. But it is expensive. So to address that our staff has applied for and received a very lucrative or beneficial grant. The effect of the grant is twofold, both benefits. Number one, it would allow freebie to expand the services, the ride times, the vehicles, the routes and so forth, all that very good. But the other benefit is that it’s kind of a cost share. So we would be able to reduce our annual cost of freebie by $65,000 by accepting the grant. All that’s great. Overall, if you added what we put in and what the grant provides, it’s a pretty high number. But if it’s subsidized with the grant for three years, then that makes sense to me as a council person, but I love freebie. I know people that use it, they’ve come to rely on it. Islamorada is kind of known for being, I’ll just say it my way, a wealthy community. There’s no denying that, I mean, there’s a millionaire on every corner here. But what you don’t see are the good people that work here, that support us, the folks that work in resorts and restaurants and construction and all kinds of jobs here. A lot of them rely on freebie and a lot of the folks that are not able to work that still live here, rely on freebie. We’ve had it for a number of years and I just think to take that away would be a very sad thing and almost cruel thing to do. But I don’t think we’re going to take it away. Some of the other council members, they want to look at costs or something. I can’t talk to them because of the Sunshine Law and they don’t say much about it during the meetings, but we’re going to look at it again. My feel is that we’re going to keep it but they just want to look at it a little in more detail and maybe make some adjustments.”

Brian Cook came from Monroe County to serve as an interim village manager and the search for a permanent manager will continue.

Gregg said, “We got involved in a unique arrangement with the county where they in essence, loaned us or rented us, however you want to look at it, one of their department heads to serve as our interim manager, that’s Brian Cook. His contract runs out, I believe it’s October 5th, it was a 60 day contract. I’ve spoken to him, and he’s indicated to the staff and other council members that he likes us, but he doesn’t want to make that a permanent position for himself. He has some issues with his aging parents. He needs to be available to care for them and he also lives in the Lower Keys and I don’t know that he’s excited about relocating up here, with our high costs. So he’s decided that he would like to go back to his old position with the county, but he’s willing to stay on a little bit longer with an extension. We have not gotten to the details of that. But it’s clear that, it won’t be permanent.”

The village council is working on two thing simultaneously with this.

Gregg explained, “First of all, we’re in talks with the county about seeing if they would be able to loan us another staff person who would be interested. Of course, there’s always the thought that it’s kind of like a test drive. They come up and they see what we’re like, and we see what they’re like and if it’s okay with the county, then they decided to stay long term, we could do that too. So that’s part of it. But parallel to that we put out advertisements for hiring a permanent new manager, and we’ve received approximately 26 applications from different candidates for the position. It’s my understanding that we’ll be talking about that at our next meeting about the 28th of this month. We did have a discussion at the last meeting, and each council member was authorized to engage two helpers. We’re not forming a formal committee so we’re don’t have to worry about the Sunshine Law, but just two helpers, advisors. We’re going to get together and go over the applications and then kind of make a recommendation to the council. Each council member will do that and then we’ll probably come up with a vote after that. So we’re heading in the right direction. It’s a struggle to get there. It’s my understanding that the application period doesn’t close until tomorrow. So there’s still a chance if anybody’s out there, to put in an application. It’s my understanding that in this business, the way it works is people kind of tend to wait until the last minute for strategic reasons. I’m not sure what they are. But I’m told expect a higher number of applications to come in during the last few days. So hopefully next week, we’ll have them all in and we’ll take a good look and we’ll sort through them and sift through them and come up with some candidates that we can look at and probably call them in for interviews and then start whittling things down from there. That’s likely how it’ll go.”

Development projects are in the works, including Green Turtle Hammock Preserve.

Gregg said, “What happened is we put out a bid to construct a shell structure. It was a meeting place. It was a two story structure with a covered roof but open on the side. And the bids that came back for that were just in a word ridiculous, $400 or $500 a square foot for a building that on the top had no walls and there didn’t have finishes like a home. It was it wasn’t a fancy thing at all. It was really just a pavilion. At any rate, we rejected that and we’re going to probably put it back out for another bid and adjust the scope of the work. Maybe we’ll make it a one story building now, with the idea of going for two stories later on, but the renderings that we had, it’s really nice, it looks out over the bay, it connects the people to the environment. You’re not sitting in a cozy, air conditioned little box. You’re open to the world and you can feel it and see it and taste it. It’s really neat how they designed that. So I sure hope it gets off the ground and we get to finish that.”

A building moratorium will be discussed, as well.

Gregg said, “We’re going to have a discussion about a building moratorium in Islamorada. The discussion encompasses some parts of our building rights, but not others. So as you might remember, from some of our discussions, we have the BPAS system, which is the equivalent to the county’s version of ROGO. We’ve exhausted the market rate BPAS allocations. We don’t have any more to get out. So it kind of begs the question, should we be accepting any more applications? I think the answer there is no. So we’re going to pause that. So that will very probably be passed as a moratorium. Of course, we have affordable housing. We have commercial BPAS, and then we have transferable development rights TDR. So I don’t believe we are intending to put a moratorium on affordable and I don’t think TDRs are going to get there either, but that’s still up for discussion. So the one that’s in play really is commercial square footage. Are we going to put a moratorium on that? That’s also kind of up in the air. I think it’s going to be a hybrid where folks who have already made applications and are in the system so to speak, they will be allowed to go forward but anyone coming in new after the effective date of the ordinance would have to wait. I think that’s where it’s going to go.”