Let’s talk about the recent meetings in the City of Key West

September 9 – As summer comes to a close, it’s meetings, meetings and more meetings in the City of Key West.

Sam Kaufman, Key West City Commissioner, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s been happening.  

The regular City Commission meeting was held on Wednesday. Yesterday morning saw a special workshop meeting about the new proposed vacation rental ordinance.

Last night was the first public meeting to approve the budget for fiscal year 2022-2023.

At the City Commission meeting, the Black Educators History Museum was discussed.

Kaufman was the dissenting vote, looking for more discussion about the issue.

Kaufman said, “Unfortunately I’ve been the lone vote on this for the last seven years, since I’ve been on the City Commission. Unfortunately we haven’t been able to figure it out in the city. I think everybody supports having a museum that features a permanent exhibit for the contributions from our African American members of our community because there is none. There is no permanent exhibit. The proposal on Wednesday was to provide 220 square feet, one room basically, where their proposal – and they presented a master plan in 2020 for the band room and that was for 4,000 square feet. They have some donations that are pending for significant artifacts and exhibits and they just feel that the 200 square feet is really not sufficient. I just thought really there should be more communication and we really need to heal the fractures in our community on this issue and try to get people to work together. That’s what I was advocating for and I think ultimately, that will happen because I don’t think that this particular proposal will work. I don’t think there will be anyone that will probably want to bid on the 200 square foot room. I think eventually we’ll get it right. I really think we need to focus on the communication and sharing information and the healing. There’s some hurt feelings out there between elected officials and some members of the community. Look, we’re one human family. We want to focus on everyone being a part of everything we do here in the city. We’re a welcoming community and we’ve got to get this right. I think our city manager is committed to that, but there’s just a lot of tension. Right now we need to focus on bringing people together.”

In terms of the vacation rental ordinance, during the COVID pandemic, there was a dramatic increase in the number of vacation rentals on the island. They began to creep more and more into the single family residential neighborhoods.

Kaufman said, “And that really has raised a lot of concerns with local people. It really changes the nature of our streets and our neighborhoods when we have party houses or AirBNBs next door to our houses. Most people that I’ve talked to really are concerned about that.”

The proposal is to limit any new vacation rentals for 30 days or longer. These are not transient vacation rentals. Transient is defined as any stays less than 30 days.

Kaufman explained, “In order to allow a property to rent between 30 days and six months, they would have already needed to have what’s called the business tax receipt, which allows for someone who’s already renting their property out. That’s really what we’re talking about. We’re trying to slow down the AirBNBs and the increase that has been happening on the island. I think most people support it, but the realtors are very concerned about it.”

The realtors were allowed to speak at the meeting.

Kaufman said, “I think it was a very positive meeting. I went in with mixed feelings, not sure how the meeting would go because realtors want to sell properties and they want to make money and it makes sense and people have concerns about their property values. We have to balance the interest here. There were some really good suggestions that came out of the meeting, particularly concerning homestead owners. Maybe making an exception for those permanent residents who maybe want to rent out their property for a month at a time or two months or whatever, but they’re permanent residents. That’s something I think the city will consider.”

Apparently, the Village of Islamorada has a similar ordinance.

Kaufman said, “But they focus more on the very high-end properties. There’s some kind of sliding scale, so I think the city will look at what the villages of Islamorada are doing. It was a productive meeting. Communication is important so we have all the information. In the end, we really need to address this increase of the vacation rentals.”

Every city in the state of Florida is prohibited from addressing any change in laws by state preemption on transient rentals.

Kaufman said, “But there is no prohibition in terms of looking at these 30-day plus rentals and as you know and I think your listeners know, the trend in the market for vacationers in the Keys, especially during COVID, were for these 30-day plus stays.”

The transfer of licenses for vacation rentals are favored for going into certain districts that allow acceptance of more vacation rentals.

Kaufman pointed out, “For example, in the single family districts where locals are living in their single family homes, we don’t want more vacation rentals going into those districts, so that’s prohibited from transferring one license that has a vacation rental into that district.”

Licenses can be transferred into the districts with the hotels – like on Duval Street and North Roosevelt Boulevard.

Kaufman said, “But otherwise our code does not allow for that, which makes sense if you think about it. We don’t want the vacation rentals to move next door to our house, so that’s the whole point of that.”

The proposed ordinance will be on the agenda for the next City Commission meeting on September 20 at 5 p.m.

Kaufman said, “I’m sure there will be lots of discussions between today and that date. Some people want this proposal to be postponed so more work can be done on it. That may happen. There’s lots of details to it.”

Recommendations will be made by the city staff and legal department as well.

Discussion will be had on September 20 to decide whether the ordinance is enacted now with some changes or if it gets postponed for more discussion.

The first budget approval occurred last night.

Kaufman said, “I have to say this year was a very difficult year for budget. This is my seventh time going through the budget process. It’s my first time voting in favor of a tax increase and I reluctantly do that. If you look at the budget as a whole, there’s so much value going for the taxpayer. There’s so much that the city is doing from our sewer system, our police department, our ambulance service, our fire department.”

The city is adding 13 new first responder positions in the fire department and the police department.

Kaufman said, “The cost of that, in addition to inflation, fuel prices, everything else, far exceeds the tax increase. So I am satisfied. I feel very proud actually of our finance department and our management. It’s a solid budget this year.”

For more information on the City of Key West, click here: https://www.cityofkeywest-fl.gov/