Let’s check in with the Village of Ilsamorada

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

Business is going well with the new city manager in Islamorada.

Gregg said, “He’s very diligent in getting things done. I think I can speak for most of the council I haven’t talked to him about it, but we’re impressed with his perseverance and punching through things and getting things done. Last night he discussed some things about the fills with us that some breakthrough conversations he’s had with the state on how we’re going to handle things there. We’ve not been able to do that for a long time. So he pulled that off. We were impressed with that and he seems to be making progress in all other areas. So good reports all around.”

An additional day for lobster mini season may see quite an influx of people.

Gregg said, “To me it was a surprise announcement. I didn’t see it coming or hear it coming. It’s a pro and a con or a good and bad depending on your perspective. For many years, there’s been discussion about eliminating the regular mini season altogether because it’s invasive and destructive from a quiet right of enjoyment of life perspective, but businesses love it. So it’s good there. Now we’ve got a new one. I don’t know how many people made reservations because this kind of came up very suddenly. But it’s a one day, I think it’s designed for locals only and locals mean Florida residents. So Islamorada is the closest big town to the mainland. So we expect we’re going to get a heavy impact from that and hope we’re braced for impact.”

Budget talks have begun.

Gregg said, “Last night, we had a village council meeting and as part of the annual regular program for budgeting, we started out by issuing or voting on an upper limit to the millage and that doesn’t mean that we’re going to adopt it, but we were consistent with the last several years. We adopted the millage at three, so $3 per 1000 and that just means that we can’t go any higher than that. Before anyone gets nervous, I fully expect that it will be lower than that. But we’ll see. We discussed the number of items that we have on our shopping list, you might say, and we have a rather large 600 plus $1,000 grant for our firefighters that we’re going to lose. So we need to make that up somehow. We’re about to spend almost $4 million to buy the Island Community Church and we will need to replace that money somehow. I’m a very nervous kind of guy in hurricane season and I like to have a very, very healthy reserve fund to take care of that as we did during Irma. I think it’s down some and I sure would like to pump that back up so that we can feel safe and comfortable financially, should we have a storm to deal with. We also talked about establishing a more robust land acquisition fund. We’re out of BPAS now. We’re going to have to start buying some land from property owners sooner or later. My view is sooner is better than later. So we’re going to talk about that. So all of those things are going to weigh on our minds when we decide how much we need to spend and run the government. Depending on your perspective, good or bad, the Village’s overall assessed value increased by over $700 million. So three quarters of a b billion B as in boy. So if we kept the millage rate the same, that would add oh, gosh, I think it’s two and a half or $3 million to our budgets. So, the taxpayers naturally ask why do you need more money, when our property values are going up? And the answer to that is expenses are going up for us just like they are for you at home, insurance and labor costs and parts for things and everything is going up so we have to adjust accordingly. Just like every family in business in town does. So that’s what we talked about.”

What will the Island Community Church property be used for?

Gregg said, “The facts as I understand them, that property came on the market. We were aware that it was under consideration, and it may even have been under contract with a large chain business. I believe it was the drugstore. The village council, I think unanimously decided that that was not a desirable addition to our community. So we paired that with an interest in a new library site. Although the Village is not in the business of operating the library. We thought kind of like in Hollywood Squares, X to block, so we would take the taxpayers money and buy this property, very, very much like we bought the Walgreens property years ago because that too was targeted for development as either a combination Dunkin Donuts gas station drive in or something else like that, that we didn’t think was fitting with our community character. It’s probably going to wind up being traded or redeveloped for something else. It could even be a village council site, although the parking is terrible, and the building itself, it’s not condemned or anything, but in order to make it adaptable for public use as a public building, it would require a lot of expensive upgrades to make it ADA compliant and so forth. So I don’t know that we want to spend the money on doing all that. So the straight answer is we bought it so that no one else could do anything with it unless we approved that and we may work out some kind of arrangement with the county to take it over and do a library there or swap it for something else. So the opportunities are wide open for that.”

Comprehensive planning is ongoing as well.

Gregg said, “The Village adopted a comprehensive and land use plan and land development regulations back in 2001. So 23 years ago, and we refer to that as the 2020 plan. All of the data and analysis and information that was researched to develop that, it’s stale, it’s expired, we have amended along the way to try to keep current, but it’s time for a redo and an overhaul. So we have put out a bid for a planning firm to assist us with that process as we did almost 25 years ago. So that is ongoing and I think we may have some bids to look at the next meeting. I’m not clear on the timing of that, but very soon. So we’ve been talking about that. Then, as a part of that our staff has been busy also, with some related things. On July the 30th at 5pm at Founders Park, in our regular meeting building, we’re going to have a workshop for BPAS, which is the Village’s version of ROGO and that ties into the recent discussions about the state proposing to offer more BPAS or ROGO units to the cities and the Keys as well as the county for future development. I believe that that would be to sort of mitigate the financial impact of having to buy whatever the right number is 9,000, 6,000, 8000 vacant, buildable parcels throughout Monroe County, including in the different municipalities, the Village and Marathon. So we’re going to talk about that and this is a point where the community has input to define future development, the level of it and the quality of it in the village. We may decide we want a lot, we may decide we want a little or something in the middle. Only time will tell with those surveys. But that’s what we’re looking for is public input to help guide us forward to determine how we want our Village to look and feel and live. I’m excited about that process.”

A Sunset Beach swim zone was also discussed last night.

Gregg said, “This issue is on the ocean side. I think Sunset is the last street on the ocean side. That’s the southernmost street on the ocean side. It’s a beautiful beach and there’s lovely homes along there and the water tapers off shallow, just offshore and it’s recently become a sandbar-like atmosphere during holidays and calm weather. It’s resulted in some conflicts between the upland owners of properties along there and the party goers that tie their boats up and enjoy the shallow water there. So we’re looking for a way to regulate that so that conflicts aren’t reoccurring. But really the issue I believe, is public safety. It’s really not compatible to have boats traversing through a body of water where there’s a lot of swimmers. I think it was the day after the 4th last week, a swimmer, I believe a spear fisherman was killed in the Lower Keys and run over by a boat. We don’t want that obviously. However fishing guides like that area, because it’s a popular transition zone for tarpon and bonefish. So we don’t want to foreclose our fishing community and the guides from earning a living where they’ve been accustomed to that. So we have to be very careful about that. So it’s under discussion, we’ve given instruction to our staff to come back to us with some more information, some more details about how we might accomplish that. We know it’s going to be expensive, it might be $100,000, to put the buoys out there and there are five different regulatory agencies that we’ll need to obtain permits from, so it’s no easy task, and we do take it seriously. But the overall and overarching consideration here is public safety. I don’t think I have to tell anyone out there that the Village is getting a lot more crowded, not only on the land, but especially on the water. On a good day and an attractive beach like that is a magnet for people to come to and swimmers and boaters alike. So we don’t want anyone getting hurt and we have a chance to do something about that. So that’s where we’re going with that one.”

A project in Tavernier with a potential Publix and a housing complex is possibly back on the table and it involved requests of some ROGOs from the Village of Islamorada.

Gregg said, “When this concept and plan and application began to be discussed, I want to say at least two years ago, the question was, and this is totally outside the jurisdiction of the Village, I wouldn’t say we don’t have a dog in this fight, we certainly have an interest in it, because it’s, I think, a mile and less than two miles from our, our northern boundary. So we want to make sure that if it’s coming in, we have a say in that because it impacts us. But the project itself will require the use of I want to say 80-ish, I can’t remember the number but about 80, affordable housing, either BPAS or ROGO allocations to be used to build out the affordable housing portion of the project. It’s not just a Publix shopping center, there’s a there’s a housing component that goes with that to kind of offset the impacts. So early on, we received inquiries from the developer, would we be willing to give up some of ours, remember, we have 300 of those that we were awarded by the governor after Hurricane Irma for our Village to address our own affordable housing problems, and I’ll call it a crisis. As far as I know, we’ve never received an official inquiry, I got a phone call, and had a little chat about that. But that’s as far as it went with me. We have never entered into any kind of an agreement to allow the use of that. There is no contract, there’s no backroom deal, not that I have participated in at least. So I just wanted your listeners to know the village is not an enabler for this project, by way of offering our affordable units to be used on that project. So I just wanted to clarify that, As far as anything else, it was surprising to me as an elected official, having done land use work as a lawyer for almost 40 years to see that that was voted down and then without any real understanding or knowledge or participation by anyone else, suddenly the state reversed itself and where it once disapproved, it now says it’s okay. That was really interesting. I’d love to know the backstory on how that happens. But that’s really outside my area of concern as an elected official.”