March 09, 2018 03:23 PM

The city of Key West continues to drag its heels when it comes to finding a new location for its overnight homeless shelter, which it must do to avoid more legal action with a neighboring condo complex.

“We had a little change of priorities in the urgency of housing for our residents after the storm,” said Mayor Craig Cates, referring to Hurricane Irma, which struck Sept. 10.

For a majority of city leaders, affordable housing is now at the top of the priority list, with the homeless shelter a lesser concern at the moment.

Instead of working on a plan to relocate the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter to a city-owned parcel, city leaders continue to press that the county needs to pitch in.

“It’s more of a county problem than a city problem,” said City Commissioner Billy Wardlow. “We pay taxes for the jail also.”

Since it was built in 2004, KOTS has remained next door to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office on College Road on Stock Island. Nearby condo owners sued the city in 2012 over the location and Sheriff Rick Ramsay last October gave Key West a year to vacate the property, saying he wants to build affordable housing for his staff.

Key West in 2013 agreed to settle the condo owners’ lawsuit by agreeing to relocate KOTS. For years, the city said it would end up down the way on College Road at a former Easter Seals building.

Now, the city, led by Cates, has decided to build affordable housing there instead. A referendum this Tuesday asks voters whether housing on those two acres may reach up to 40 feet high so more units can be built.

As of Thursday, of the 14,809 voters eligible to cast ballots, 262 did so through early voting and 1,275 mailed in ballots to the county Supervisor of Elections Office. Early voting continues Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the elections office at 530 Whitehead St. Tuesday, polls at all 10 city voting precincts are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“It’s not ideal to have an emergency shelter next to affordable housing,” City Commissioner Sam Kaufman said. “KOTS needs to be either renovated or refurbished. I don’t think that current facility is meant for long-term use anyway.”

At Tuesday’s city meeting, Commissioner Margaret Romero suggested the shelter go to Trumbo Road where a dog park currently stands, out near Little Hamaca Park off Government Road; or the Easter Seals property as previously agreed upon by a different commission in 2015.

Cates replied, “I’m personally not picking a parcel tonight.”

City Manager Jim Scholl said the county would have to be consulted on any plan to move KOTS to county-owned land.

“Right now, we’re trying to deal within our own municipality,” Scholl said. “We need to continue to provide that resource.”