Let’s dig into the details of the ROGO issue…

Emily Schemper, Senior Director of Planning and Environmental Resources for Monroe County, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about issues facing the county.

The current flood warnings are a definite reason why we need to watch seawater rise.

Schemper said, “We all try to coordinate very closely to see what we can do to encourage better protection against flooding, assist people in getting better protection against flooding, in terms of how they design their buildings. That’s sort of the planning world. Then of course we’re making great progress trying to find funding to help with some of the roads projects, because that’s obviously a huge potential expense to work on those.”

ROGO, or Rate of Growth Ordinance, is obviously a big deal in Monroe County.

Schemper said, “That’s what we refer to it as in the unincorporated Monroe County. The municipalities generally refer to it as BPAS, that’s Building Permit Allocation System. But this is a system that limits the number of housing units that can be built in the Florida Keys, it’s a state area of critical state concern. That protection was put in place in the 70s. Then in the 90s, they came up with this rate of growth ordinance concept that would limit the number of housing units here. It’s put in place to protect the natural resources of the county, which is what really makes the Florida Keys what they are and why they are so unique and important and such a draw for both residents and tourists. But it also is about safety of residents in the event of a hurricane, if there needs to be an evacuation. So evacuation modeling tries to predict how long it will take for people to get out of the Keys in advance of a storm and the rate of growth ordinance, the number of units allowed, was based on how many people can you have living in the Keys? And they take all factors into consideration, the evacuation rates, occupancy rates, time of year, all of that. How many people can you have down here? If you need to evacuate can you get out in time, and the window of time chosen for this measure was 24 hours. So the rule is at a state level in the Florida statute is that all permanent residents of the Keys need to be able to get out within a 24 hour window. We all know that evacuations usually get called earlier than that, but it’s pretty complicated when you start trying to explain the timing. But the rule is you have to be able to get out within a 24 hour window if needed. That’s how you figure out how many housing units you could add to the Keys. So the state just updated that model and now we’re in a position of trying to figure out, does the county and the municipalities, do they want to advocate for more housing units down here? Do they want to assume that we are at a build out with only a couple hundred more? The modeling showed with only 220 more housing units, we would be at that 24 hour limit. So are we comfortable with changing the 24 hours to a longer time period? Would people be comfortable saying well, we only need to be able to get out within 26 hours. Those are all things that we have to consider. So our strategic planner has over 20 meetings set up with nonprofits, civic agencies, civic groups, doing a short presentation and a questionnaire trying to get feedback from all different segments of the community about how they feel about this. The simple question, do you think we need any more units here? No, we have enough. Yes, we can use a lot more. Open the gates, all different options. So trying to gauge how people feel.”

The evacuation mandates also have to do with different types of structures.

Schemper said, “Residents of mobile homes are asked to evacuate in what we call phase one of the evacuation. I’m speaking strictly through the modeling. If you talk to emergency management, the way they actually do it, when a storm is coming is more detailed based on the specific characteristics of the storm and what’s going on on the mainland, etc. Our director, Shannon Weiner is on the phone with people in the Mainland and up and down the Keys, I think it’s every six hours or more. So they’re tracking very closely, and they make decisions based on what’s actually happening in the moment. But for this modeling, just to get the general idea, there’s an early phase, phase one, that’s 24 hours long, and that’s when the mobile home residents are assumed to be evacuating, and the tourists are assumed to be evacuating. Then there’s phase two, that’s the second set of 24 hours. So it’s a 48 hour timeline overall. But phase two is this 24 hour window, when all other permanent residents are supposed to be able to get out. So yes, mobile homes evacuate earlier, because their structures are a bit more vulnerable than the site built housing structures.”

What has the feedback been thus far?

Schemper said, “It’s hard to say at this point, because Kimberly is just starting these questionnaires. There are also online questionnaires, surveys that she’s putting out there. They’re advertising on social media, sending out through various avenues and also posted on our county web page. There’s a page for ROGO 2024 that has educational materials and links to surveys. She’s going to do a number of surveys over the next few months. The first one was mainly about, I think it’s just closing this week. It’s mainly about where do you get your information? How much information do you feel you have already about ROGO? Are you interested in learning more? It’s more like this baseline community engagement, what are your information sources so that we know we’re reaching people in the best way. She’s going to do more of those online surveys for how much do you understand about ROGO? How do you feel about housing issues? How do you hear feel about evacuation issues? How do you feel about potential tax impacts of this whole conversation? So those are coming, and she has not tabulated the results, obviously, because those haven’t started. She’s just starting these meetings where there will also be a questionnaire at these more specific small scale engagement meetings. What we hear so far comes from, as you can imagine, a lot of times comes from people who are already more vocal and active in the community issues venue. So we’ve heard from them before. We kind of know what these different groups are thinking. It’s comes from both directions. So it’s kind of hard to say and that’s the whole point of the public process we’re trying to do over the next several months is okay, let’s try to reach out to as many people as possible and see how everyone feels about it. We do appreciate their regular feedback. It would be awful to never have feedback. So I do appreciate that people who are regularly engaged, but we’re trying to broaden the group that we get information from.”

How does the comprehensive plan play into all of this?

Schemper said, “The comprehensive plan gets updated regularly. It’s hard because terminology changes over the years, but the comprehensive plan we usually think about started in the 80s, and was adopted, I believe, in 1992. It took a few years for it to become effective, because the state asked for some changes. But we just did a big update of that adopted in 2016. So what we now call the Monroe County Year 2030 comprehensive plan was updated. I say just in 2016. It feels like yesterday, it was a big process, but we do try to update that regularly. That does include rules and regulations and things regarding ROGO. Also, many other things, of course, and we do update it regularly. I mean, I’d say at least every year, sometimes several times a year, there are updates to the comprehensive plan, if a specific issue comes up, that needs to be changed or updated or added.”

The next county commissioners meeting will be in July.

Schemper said, “There’s no meeting in June. So the next meeting will be in July. So we should be presenting more information depending on where we’re at with data, information and education on the ROGO process. We have a great team. Our staff works hard, and we’re trying to help the commissioners make the best recommendation. I won’t call it a decision because it’s not necessarily up to us. It’s up to the state, but the best recommendation to the state that they can.”

For more information, click here:  https://www.monroecounty-fl.gov/1321/ROGOBPAS-Workshop-Presentations