Seahorse park on its way out

By Steve Estes

The Monroe Board of County Commissioners Wednesday approved a development agreement with Longstock LLC that allows that company to build a 100-room motel on the waterfront as part of the ongoing Stock Island Marina project.

And with that approval, commissioners also ensured the end of Seahorse Trailer Park on Big Pine Key as it exists today.

Longstock bought the oft-maligned trailer park in the heart of the Avenues section of Big Pine Key earlier this year. The developer needed some way to garner transient rental units for its waterfront motel proposal on Stock Island as there are none readily available under the county’s building allocation criteria.

For the last several years, county officials have renewed an existing moratorium on transient residential units in the Keys, making none available for new construction. Developers wishing to put up motel rooms had to seek transient units from existing facilities, which has most often meant mobile home parks, RV parks and camp grounds.

And such is the case with the planned 100 units at Stock Island Marina. Those transient units, right now, are slated to come from moving development rights from Seahorse Trailer Park on Big Pine Key to the Stock Island location.

That would leave about 25 units attached to the acreage that is Seahorse Trailer Park.

According to County Commissioner George Neugent, who has been involved in negotiations with the developer over the fate of Seahorse Trailer Park, there is a good chance that the owners, after 100 transient units have been moved from Seahorse to Stock Island Marina, will deed the Seahorse property over to either Monroe County or a local non-profit such as Habitat for Humanity, so there might be future options.

“We have no hard agreement yet,” said Neugent.

During the latest round of talks, Neugent said the proposal would leave 25 units attached to Seahorse, with the land under the control of Habitat for Humanity.

“We could use the 25 units to allow Habitat to put 25 affordable units on the property so that some of the folks there now might be able to stay on,”said Neugent.

Seahorse has a reputation as a troubled community with numerous law enforcement calls, but it is also one of the larger areas for affordable living for service industry workforce on Big Pine Key.

“I’m told that the units where trouble exists will be given eviction notices. We can find some way, we believe, to allow the actual workforce to remain while the transition takes place,” said Neugent.

What the future holds for the property is cloudy.

Though the land available would lend itself to significantly more than 25 units, the property designation is proving problematic for future planning.

Under the county’s comprehensive land use plan for Big Pine Key, units can be moved off the island to anywhere in the Lower Keys planning subarea, but no units can be moved onto the island in Tier One areas.

“Part of the Seahorse property is apparently designated Tier One due to a deer corridor,” said Neugent. “We have to do some research and find out where the Tier One is located and if we can work around it for any increase in density for more affordable units.”

The other option, says Neugent, is to go through the process and change the Tier designation using the argument that the property was totally scarified during its lifetime and of no use to the deer anyway. But that’s a lengthy process.

“It’s not an insurmountable problem, I don’t believe, but whether we find a solution or not, the property has been purchased and the units are on their way off the island,”said Neugent.

The county has a large pool of affordable housing building allocations in its Rate of Growth Ordinance coffers.

Of the 198 units the county receives yearly from the state for new single-family residential building, 70 or so of them go into an affordable housing pool.

After the real estate bust in 2007-2008 and the steep drop in homes prices, market-rate units were selling at or below the county’s afford

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