Key West mayor eyes Mosquito Control site for affordable housing

The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District isn't scheduled to vacate its Stock Island digs on College Road until January 2017.

But Key West Mayor Craig Cates is already looking at using that property to build affordable housing.

"First, I want to get the zoning changed," Cates said Tuesday.

Mosquito Control is on a month-to-month lease at $1 a year with the city since the city has said it won't renew is decades-old lease. Mosquito Control commissioners voted 3-2 last May to build a 4,200-square-foot office on a 1.25-acre lot along U.S. 1 on Big Coppitt Key in anticipation of moving out.

On Nov. 2, the board heard pitches from Biltmore Construction and Overholt Construction Corp. to construct the building. Commissioners balked when Biltmore representatives told them the building could cost up to $4.9 million and Overholt estimated $4.4 million as a maximum price.

"I'm confident in the long run that Mosquito Control will move on. They've already bought that property," Cates said.

The mayor said that if zoning is changed to allow for residential units on the College Road property, he would look into proposals through a public/private partnership to use the land for affordable housing. 

The Mosquito Control building lies adjacent to the city-owned former Easter Seals property. That's where the Key West City Commission in February voted to relocate the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter.

KOTS is already on College Road, at the Monroe County Sheriff's Office headquarters. It has to move under a lawsuit settlement between nearby residents and the city.

City Attorney Shawn Smith said Tuesday that he does not believe affordable housing on the Mosquito Control land would affect a new homeless shelter.

Smith is developing a request to Attorney General Pam Bondi to determine whether homeless housing is considered affordable housing in relation to KOTS. That would determine whether the city could use Monroe County Land Authority funds for KOTS.

City Commissioner Billy Wardlow has some issues with Cates' plan, noting that there may be chemicals in the  Mosquito Control land.

"I'd rather see the mosquito board stay there and make a reasonable rent,” Wardlow said.

Mosquito Control commissioners have opened a 90-day window to negotiate with Key West leaders about possibly staying in the Southernmost City.