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Now-closed Big Pine institutions face differing future

The county-owned building that housed a charity’s ReStore thrift shop faces demolition. The Big Pine Key building has deteriorated dangerously, county staff says.
The county-owned building that housed a charity’s ReStore thrift shop faces demolition. The Big Pine Key building has deteriorated dangerously, county staff says.

One former Big Pine Key landmark could be headed toward a new future while another seems to be facing its end.

Bulldozers may soon level the former ReStore operated for 13 years by Habitat for Humanity of the Lower Keys as its fund-raising thrift shop at mile marker 30.

If approved by Monroe County Commissioners meeting Wednesday, county staff will begin the search for a company to demolish the deteriorating two-story, 12,000-square-foot concrete building. Costs of the demolition have been estimated at $60,000.

Monroe County purchased the ReStore property in 2004 to secure a staging site for future post-hurricane operations. The building was designated as a last-chance hurricane shelter, and leased to Habitat for $10 a year.

A year ago, an inspection revealed a long list of serious “life-safety” structural faults in the building. Habitat was not able to make any upgrades.

Repairs would have cost at least $570,000, county engineers calculated. A more thorough inspection could have turned up additional costly problems, they noted.

In its current condition, the building would make a poor evacuation shelter, staff said.

Road prison

At the Wednesday commission meet at the Murray E. Nelson Government and Cultural Center on Key Largo, county Senior Planning Director Mayte Santamaria will outline “potential development options” for the now-closed state Big Pine Road Prison.

The last of the inmates were moved from Big Pine Key to mainland prisons in April. The 10.2-acre complex that housed about 60 inmates, mostly assigned to help maintain U.S. 1, opened in 1957. Looming expenses for repairs and sewer connections caused the state to shutter the low-security prison.

A state land administrator has advised Santamaria that Monroe County could seek a long-term lease “for a public purpose such as a park, recreational facility, preservation museum” or similar activity at the 10.17-acre Key Deer Boulevard property. Otherwise, the road-prison site would be offered to other state agencies and colleges, or possibly sold.

The road-prison land currently is zoned for public facilities only. If sold to a private concern, zoning could be changed, Santamaria wrote in a summary, but the site does not have any guarantee of securing building permits for residential or commercial use in the foreseeable future.

Big Pine, with its tracts of undeveloped land that are home to an array of threatened and endangered species, is tightly regulated by state and federal mandates.

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206

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