Key West approves 62-apartment complex

Key West city leaders this week approved a 62-unit apartment project at the waterfront Sunset Marina complex that includes 39 deed-restricted rentals reserved for affordable workforce housing aside 23 market-rate homes.

In expensive Key West with its tourism-based economy, a two-bedroom apartment that goes for $2,709 a month legally fits the definition of affordable.

“Hundreds of city employees could not afford these apartments,” City Commissioner Sam Kaufman said of the development project. “This is really not serving the critical need we have for workforce housing.”

The vote was 5-1, with Kaufman dissenting, saying the project isn’t addressing Key West’s housing crisis. City Commissioner Billy Wardlow was absent from Wednesday’s meeting

Most rents will range from $2,322 to $2,709 monthly on a piece of Stock Island within the city limits already home to a gated community of condominiums. Those owners in 2011 successfully sued the city over objections to it placing its overnight homeless shelter next door on county-owned land used by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. The city has not decided where to relocate the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter.

The price range of the new units represents income limits for a single person earning at least $72,240 a year, deemed moderate income, and up to $84,280 annually, known as middle income.

Attorney Barton Smith, whose family has ownership in Sunset Marina, said the project is a model for Key West but lowering the rents would kill it.

“You’re not going to get financing and the project fails before it gets off the ground,” Smith said, adding the new apartments will help young professionals such as teachers, firefighters and police who often make $60,000 a year.

“Put two of those together, this is the housing they can afford,” Smith said. “They can’t afford to buy yet but this is housing they can afford.”

Mayor Craig Cates defended the project as a step in the right direction, adding it meets Key West’s affordable housing law requiring 30 percent of new development be set aside as affordable because it is market-rate residential housing.

Only a handful of units will be reserved for locals making low and median incomes, according to the federal government’s calculations based on Monroe County’s median annual income of $72,500 a year. Those limits deems as low income a single person earning $48,100 to under $60,200 a year.

“The developers lining up to build affordable housing in Key West are nonexistent,” said developer Ed Swift, president of Historic Tours of America. “You lose money on every median income unit you build.”

Also Wednesday, the commission:

▪ Approved spending up to $63,878 for new playground equipment at Bayview Park. A contractor inspected the park’s equipment in May and found potential safety hazards there, city staff said.

▪ Was reminded that budget workshops are set for July 18 and 19, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., at Old City Hall, 510 Greene St.

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen on Twitter