When it comes to preserving the Keys, the Monroe County Land Authority is always hard at work

Christine Hurley, executive director of the Monroe County Land Authority, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about the ground under our feet.

The Monroe County Land Authority purchases land for conservation, recreation and protection of private property rights.

Hurley said, “One of the lesser known things we do in the Keys is our work on affordable housing and how we partner with groups like the Housing Authority and non-profits such as Habitat to purchase land for affordable housing and sometimes we even contribute some funding for construction.”

There are currently eight lots on Big Pine that the authority will work with the Habitat for Humanity of the Lower Keys for the homeownership program.

Hurley said, “We have another project on Cudjoe with them for four units where we did a mortgage on the land acquisition on that one. We usually forgive that after they complete the project. In reality we’re saving the land acquisition cost to deliver the final product.”

The main goal of the authority is to purchase land for conservation.

Hurley said, “We are always looking for the vacant, private properties, people who are ready to sell. We never buy anything unless there’s a willing seller, but our goal is to buy as much important habitat in the Keys that we can preserve forever, for the endangered species, but also to keep our island environmentally sound.”

The outlying islands in the Keys are mostly in Monroe County, but they’re not necessarily practical for the authority.

Hurley explained, “They don’t typically have zoning that would allow development. So the value of those offshore islands often is not high enough that we can buy them from the sellers. In other words, sometimes the privately owned islands, the people just hold onto them because I guess they want to own an island.”

Some of the islands do allow camping.

Funding for the authority does come from the state for conservation, but not really for affordable housing.

Hurley said, “The Stewardship Act from 2016 has been pretty much the ultimate success story for our state and county partnership. Within the Stewardship Act there is a $5 million goal where the State Department of Environmental Protection with their Florida Forever program has been requested to purchase up to $5 million a year in conservation land. They had been having problems spending that funding. They’re an organization that is normally set up to buy very large pieces of land and not work on individual lot purchases. In 2022, we worked with them to establish a process where the land authority buys the land and then we re-sell it to the state. In other words we’re able to recapture all of our money that we spend, or most of it, and then replenish our funds so we can keep buying more and more. That is going incredibly well.”

The initial revenue source comes from tourist impact tax.

Hurley explained, “A half a penny on each hotel room or vacation rental, all those types of uses that pay tourist impact tax, goes to the land authority and that is the money that we use to buy up the land.”

The Voluntary Home Buyout Program has about a month left for people to apply.

Hurley said, “That was a $15 million grant that we received after Hurricane Irma. It really was something set up to help people who didn’t have enough insurance coverage to rebuild. The people that have participated have been very happy with the dollar amounts we have been able to pay them for their property and then we recapture the ROGO allocation that they have on that property to use in the future for other types of development.”

Since the land authority’s inception in 1986, $52 million has been spent on conservation land and $55 million has been spent on affordable housing.

Hurley said, “We are very active. Our goal is to continue to shape our community in the best way possible.”

For more information on the authority, click here: https://www.monroecounty-fl.gov/272/Land-Authority