Key West floats plan to buy the Peary Court subdivision for affordable housing

Buying Peary Court would be up to Key West voters via a citywide referendum.
Buying Peary Court would be up to Key West voters via a citywide referendum.

Rather than building it and hoping they come, the Key West City Commission prefers to buy it.

Tuesday, the board voted to negotiate to buy Peary Court, a 157-unit housing complex just off Palm Avenue, for affordable housing. Commissioner Jimmy Weekley made the proposal.

"We sit up here week after week talking about affordable housing and trying to find ways in which to build it," Weekley said. "If we went out and bought just vacant land, the cost to put the infrastructure in, for construction, for everything else that goes along with it could ultimately cost us a lot more than attempting to purchase this property."

It's unclear if White Street Partners would be willing to sell. Key West attorney Bobby Highsmith, who represents the company, was out of the country this week.

Development group White Street Partners finalized the purchase of the former military housing property for $35 million in August 2013. The seller was Southeast Housing LLC, a division of Balfour Beatty Communities, the Navy's private housing partner.

White Street Partners attempted to redevelop Peary Court, calling for the replacement of the existing units and the addition of 48 affordable (under income guidelines) units, but withdrew its application at a November Historical Architectural Review Commission meeting.

However, plans for adding 48 affordable units are still on the table. The owners have submitted development applications that are expected to be reviewed by the Development Review Committee at its June 25 meeting, according to Senior Planner Kevin Bond.

City Attorney Shawn Smith said the 48 units would be included in the city's proposed purchase.

Any purchase would be left in the hands of Key West voters, City Manager Jim Scholl said. Both the proposed purchase and its funding source, most likely a municipal bond, would require a referendum.

"We need to take a look at that and obviously get some financial analysis of what would be affordable, no pun intended, for the city to be able to consider acquiring that and then work with the [city[ Housing Authority to figure out how to manage that stock of units then," Scholl said.