Tread lightly with CBRS changes

By Steve Estes

While county commissioners Wednesday will debate whether to take the final step that will solidify the presence of commercial power on No Name Key, there are other facets of the proposed change to a land use ordinance that need a look, as well.

It appears the three votes necessary to end the long-running battle over electrification of No Name Key are available. For some that will be a sad day, for others a joyous one as the way will finally be paved for the eventual gentrification of one of the quirkiest islands in this quirky island chain.

But when commissioners consider the ramifications of the land code changes they will see Wednesday, they should look hard at the unintended future consequences of all the actions they are being asked to consider.

The code change proposed is to lift the prohibition against the extension of  commercial utilities to or through areas designated as federal Coastal Barrier Resource Systems.

That the decision will be made to do that seems a foregone conclusion, but we would ask that the commissioners look beyond that.

While the proposed change clears the way for commercial utilities to some very ecologically sensitive areas, it retains the prohibition against public money being used to extend further infrastructure.

This means nothing more than a prohibition against taxpayer-funded projects for the public good.

There will be no mechanism to stop the extension of commercial water or sewers into these same areas, even though some of the best planners in the state still maintain that the way to ensure human development is to “follow the pipes.”

What the proposal won’t allow is the paving of roads through those same areas where dirt roads currently exist to make travel in and around some Lower Keys islands easier for the folks who live here full time.

Particularly on Big Pine Key, traffic congestion has long been the norm. The state Department of Transportation has widened the road, added turn lanes and tweaked timing on the traffic light to try and rectify the problems associated with ever-increasing traffic flow on US 1…which is as we all know the only way into and out of the Keys by vehicle.

And that hasn’t had any serious effect on lousy traffic flow.

We’re not sure why the powers that be thought such things would make a difference, especially when professional traffic engineers said that the only sure way to raise the lousy level of vehicular service on US 1 through Big Pine Key is to…get ready for this…get local traffic off US 1.

There’s rocket science for you.

The intersection improvements were done more than a decade ago. The road widening was years ago. We still see back ups of miles in length on Big Pine Key during busy season and busy weekends out of season.

We know what it takes to fix it. It takes some paved connections of interior roads through the island that will allow those 65-plus percent of the people who live on Big Pine that live north of Key Deer Blvd. a way to get to the grocery store without hitting US 1, or to the post office, or to the doc’s office, etc.

But if we continue with only the prohibition against public good projects in a CBRS area, and allow the ones that will spur more development to be lifted unless we mitigate with stronger rules, we will have to go through all this again before we can start the discussion of an interior road in earnest.

Why?

We were supposed to be going through our land use policies in a comprehensive, calculated fashion with the end result that we make all the changes at once. We’ve now decided not to do that any longer.

OK.

So let’s do everything under one umbrella all at the same time.

We know we have to reopen the talks with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to change the parameters of the Habitat Conservation Plan. Let’s do that. Let’s talk about shifting the mitigation to areas where the public can benefit. And one of those areas would be a few extra acres of paving for an interior island artery.

This is a win-win for the entire island. Better traffic flow, better results for our businesses, more room for our visitors to clog up the highway.

And oh yeah, this doesn’t have to be anything connected to Lytton’s Way.

There are other alternatives.

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