The county will continue to look at hurricane evacuation plans

Emily Schemper, Senior Director of Planning and Environmental Resources for Monroe County, joined Good Morning Keys this morning to talk about what’s been going on in the county.

The county commissioners will meet tomorrow at 9 a.m. at the Murray Nelson Center in Key Largo and one item on the agenda will be the hurricane evacuation.

Schemper said, “It’s a discussion and direction item for the board to discuss the state of Florida’s hurricane evacuation update and the potential for some additional building permit allocations for Monroe County overall. In November, the state of Florida, Florida Commerce, which used to be called DEO, Department of Economic Opportunity, that’s our state land planning agency, they held a couple of webinars to discuss their preliminary results of the updated hurricane evacuation modeling. What they presented to us was a number of scenarios and it showed that with the current number of permits that we already have allowed to be issued, which end in the next couple of years, we would be at our required 24 hour hurricane evacuation time limitation for permanent residents. They did run some additional scenarios and showed how and what would need to happen to give additional building permits out. Those ranged from minimal allocations, 11 per year to some pretty big numbers – 7,954 was the largest number that they had plugged into their model, which would require additional time in the evacuation timing. So it would require a change to the Florida Statute. But they’ve asked for local input from the local governments and I think all of the jurisdictions are having meetings to discuss this. I don’t know that the BOCC will make an official recommendation to the state tomorrow. We’ve only had a few weeks to look at this digest, try to run some different data, calculations and considerations. It really should be a community conversation. We need to get input from everyone, what do we want for the Keys? So I don’t know that they’ll make a final recommendation to the state tomorrow, but they’re definitely looking for public input. One idea that’s out there is that maybe this year in the statutory session, the legislative session, they’ll change the statute to lock in the fact that Key West needs to be part of that hurricane evacuation modeling. Some of the scenarios they ran did not even contemplate Key West as part of the evacuation. Also that mobile homes, which already they always evacuate in the early phase of the evacuation for safety reasons. Those really should remain in that early phase and not be included in the later phase. So those types of details are the types of things that people seem to agree on. So maybe we set those this legislative year, and then take a year to have those community conversations, get the input, run some data, figure out what we need, what we want for the community. That may be what happens tomorrow. I’m not exactly sure though. It’ll be a big discussion.”

So Key West isn’t included in the current evacuation model?

Schemper said, “When the state did the modeling, they actually ran it four different ways in terms of which units were included where. Two of their scenarios were to not include Key West in the numbers they put into the model. The reason for that is actually because as you know, the county, the Florida Keys is an area of critical state concern. But it’s actually two separate areas of critical state concern in the statute. Key West is its own area, and the rest of the county is a separate area. The rest of the county is what has written into the Florida statute that the permanent residents must be able to evacuate within 24 hours. Well, they ran it that way based on how the statute is worded. But obviously, the Key West residents will be evacuating as well and if you’re actually trying to get a picture of whether or not people can evacuate within a certain timeframe, you need to put everybody who’s on the road in there. They ran it all of these separate ways to open the discussion of what should be done. In years past when they ran this model before, my understanding is they’ve always included Key West and they’ve always included the mobile homes in the earlier phase.”

When the permits were determined based on the modeling in place now, Key West was included in that.

Schemper said, “A little over 10 years ago, they gave us the last set of permit allocations that could be given out. The county has sort of, we’ve stretched our distribution out through 2026, in the summer of 2026, to give us a little extra time to make decisions like this. Some communities have their last allocations listed to be given out this past summer. But I think everyone’s trying to sort of stretch it out a little bit, because we need time to make decisions and we need to update our codes as well if we want to give out more units if they are coming from the state. So time is always a factor. We need time to analyze and time to make decisions and then time to update our regulations accordingly.”

Has there been any feedback about the permits or evacuation?

Schemper said, “I have not personally had conversations with them. So I can’t really speak to that. But I do think that Marathon, Islamorada, I know that their councils are also meeting. They are also having their own discussions to come up with their official community input at this point. It’s December. The legislative session starts in January this year, it’s early. There’s a bit of a time crunch, but at the same time, we’re hoping to make sure the state understands that it needs to be a community wide decision making process.”

There are also projects planned for Tavernier.

Schemper said, “There is a proposal to take the old Cemex concrete plant in Tavernier, just north of the Tavernier Creek Bridge, and redevelop that site with a large Publix store and 86 units of affordable housing. The community has voiced concerns over that. The planning commission did not recommend approval of it and staff is not recommending approval. The reason is what they need to complete this project is an amendment to our code that would allow them to put a building of larger than 10,000 square feet on that site, which is currently not allowed, according to the regulations. So on tomorrow’s agenda item P6, which will be heard at 11:30 or as soon after as it can be, is their proposal for that text amendment to our code to allow it on that site. Staff isn’t recommending approval because it does not fit the community character aspects in the Tavernier Livable CommuniKeys plan. We’re also, even more so, recommending that it be continued to a later date, because there are additional applications submitted for this site and they really should all go to the board at the same time, so they can see everything that’s been proposed, make sure it’s all consistent, make sure everything is in order before they actually adopt. So there’s a chance that will be continued tomorrow. But if the public hearing is held, it will be item P6 at 11:30.”

One issue with including 86 units of affordable housing at the site is there aren’t that many affordable housing ROGO allocations available at the moment.

Schemper said, “So in order to actually build those units, they need to figure that out. There’s an application they’re submitting to change our comprehensive plan, which would allow that. That’s one of the details that needs to be worked out. But staff feels strongly that those 86 units should be required if the board does decide to approve this larger building. So again, that’s part of why we would like all the details worked out because if you can’t get the building permit allocations, you can’t build the units. But if you’ve already approved a grocery store there, it doesn’t quite work out.”