By TIMOTHY O’HARA and SCOTT UNGER
July 13, 2018
The future of Key West’s homeless shelter is up in the air and all options, including closure, are on the table, according to city officials.
Last September, the Monroe County Commission voted unanimously to give the city a year to move the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter out of the Sheriff’s Office property on College Road. Earlier this month, city officials filed a formal request with the county to extend the deadline, which the commission will decide when it meets Wednesday, July 18, at 9 a.m. at the Marathon Government Center.
Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay has secured $1 million in funding from the Salvation Army and has a “verbal commitment” from Habitat for Humanity to build roughly 32 apartments, he said. He is concerned that extending the lease indefinitely would impact those commitments, he said.
“I could be in support of a reasonable extension if there was a plan and a timetable,” Ramsay said. “I have commitments to fund this without using taxpayer money. This is timely.”
Earlier this year, Key West Mayor Craig Cates proposed moving KOTS to the nearby Bayshore Manor senior living center and moving those residents to a senior center. However, the County Commission owns that property too and were opposed to relocating the seniors at Bayshore Manor.
The sheriff, City Manager Jim Scholl, County Administrator Roman Gastesi and County Attorney Bob Shillinger met recently to try and work out an arrangement, but the city has yet to identify a viable piece of property for KOTS.
The city is looking primarily at city- and county-owned properties because obtaining new property would require a public referendum, but each parcel presents unique challenges, according to Scholl.
“The properties in the city limits are few, one or two, that could, if they’re not zoned already that could be zoned and approved,” Scholl said. “There’s more properties outside the city limits that haven’t been fully vetted.”
Scholl declined to mention specific parcels until a plan can be agreed upon by the city, county and Sheriff’s Office. KOTS has been at the Sheriff’s Office property for 14 years.
“It immediately becomes political, so we need to be very cautious at looking at objectively what will work,” he said. “We’ve got to have three parties agree.”
Regardless of funding and plans, Scholl estimates it will be at least a year until construction can begin on housing on the Sheriff’s Office property due to current zoning restrictions.
The property currently isn’t zoned for residential units, has a 25-foot height limit that would require a public referendum to raise and the base flood elevation would be very high on the low lying parcel, Scholl said.
“It’s not impossible, it’s not insurmountable, but it will take over a year to get through that process,” he said. “(Ramsay) needs to look at other options for other properties that would work.”
The two sides could reach a compromise using some of the planned 104-unit affordable housing project the city is pursuing on College Road for Sheriff’s Office employees, Scholl said.
Any plans moving forward will hinge on the county commission’s vote on the extension request next week and if it’s voted down, the city may be left with only one option, according to Scholl.
“Close KOTS,” he said of the consequences of a no vote. “We won’t have a temporary overnight shelter; that’s the only option at that point.”