The agenda for the Thursday, August 25, 2022, Village Council meeting is a real humdinger – something that should concern everyone who cares about our town. First, we share the highlights and then some additional information below them. Editor’s Note: If our commentary seems particularly stinging, it is 100 percent on purpose.
Hidden spending under the guise of consent.
Requests to accept grants that will require future spending by Islamorada taxpayers without full discussions and understanding of the financial obligation should never appear on a Consent Agenda, yet four appear. Additionally, six Public Hearing items, with financial implications to all assessed properties, have also been tossed on Consent. As a refresher, the Consent Agenda is for routine, mostly unimportant and non-controversial items that are taken up all together, without discussion or individual vote. But in Islamorada, the Consent Agenda is also where serious shenanigans have appeared in the recent past that have cost the taxpayers dearly and have allowed corruption or the perception of corruption to breed.
Vacation rentals gorging on affordable housing.
There are a couple of agenda items that, if passed, will change thresholds for vacation rentals so that more property owners (with least expensive properties) will remain eligible to rent short term, taking more affordable places to live out of inventory. Yet if you ask the Council, they’re just as upset as all of us at the lack of affordability in town. It’s a betrayal of our trust and an example of the left hand not knowing – or caring enough to know – what the right hand is doing.
Failure to plan or planning to fail.
Not one, not two, but four amendments to our town’s Comprehensive Plan appear on the agenda. It turns out, our Village Council, flying happily without a competent management team, allowed the Comp Plan to expire. In 2020. Nearly three years ago. So, this has made the Village and its residents and taxpayers susceptible to costly lawsuits. Editor’s Note: We have been outspoken over the continued bad behavior that has left our town running through village managers like kegs of beer during Octoberfest. This is but one example of why it is so destructive.
A few Councilmembers playing big shot with our money.
Our garbage is collected by Waste Management – a $74 billion corporation. The contract they have with the village calls for an annual 3% increase and the contract expires next year. However, in recent months, they have been signaling a request for an increase of something between 17 and 20 percent on residential collection. From the outset, only one councilman, Henry Rosenthal, has signaled he’d only support the 3% they are entitled to, no more. Our brand-new Village Manager is recommending a 16% increase. WTH?!
On what planet does this make sense?
This reckless disregard for the taxpayers reminds us of an action the Council took earlier this year when they paid Roget Bryan almost $200,000 in severance, when the contract he had with the town clearly and legally entitled him to no severance.
How do you like your traffic?
If you like being stuck in traffic and think the Council should do more to make traveling around town more difficult, you will be thrilled with X. under Quasi-Judicial, item A, Tab 18. That will make a handful of insiders happy. But for the rest of the thinking adult population, we explain in more detail below. Nothing about this project passes the smell test.
Now for some backup information on just the highlights of what appears will be a very long night at Village Hall.
The “brewery-distillery-rental-units-entertainment-complex” project from hell.
Property rights are important, sacrosanct if you will. In fact, we’d be hard pressed to suggest an instance where they should not be vigorously defended. Property rights give us predictability – as owners and as neighbors.
But what happens when a few (elected) buddies get together to look out for one of their other buddies?
What happens to the town when a property owner asks for more than they are entitled to? Then what happens when that “more” is enormous and will have impacts that will reverberate for decades, affecting all of us, just not in a good way.
Well, 20 pounds of you-know-what are about to be jammed into a 5-pound bag. It will be on full display at the August 25th Village Council meeting. We’ll set more of the stage for you now.
X. Quasi-Judicial, Item A | TAB 18
Defying logic and the rules, the staff report for the applicant’s request makes claims not supported by facts. They insist the project follows all requirements and deems it in compliance. Therefore, staff is recommending approval.
It is not in compliance – it’s not even close. Depending on how you calculate it, the applicant is requesting upwards on 65 variances in nine separate categories. What in the world is staff talking about?!
Problems that will be created by this project include increased congestion at one of the worst intersections in the Keys, where four lanes merge into two. Also very troubling, by allowing a distillery (not an allowed use in Islamorada) to operate on the first floor of a two-story dwelling with people living in the seven units of the second floor is both dangerous and likely illegal.
Staff and Council need to stop. They are going the wrong way. Worse, they’re taking all of us with them.
Fire. Ready. Aim.
Appearing on the Consent Agenda, staff is asking the Council to accept three grants – one from a state source and two from the TDC. Free money, who wouldn’t support that?! Well, not so fast. As we know, there is no such thing as a free lunch in Islamorada. To receive the grants, the taxpayers will be on the hook for the balance of the $1.2 million for just one phase of the projects.
As they have done too many times, staff appears to be backing the village into projects the public may or may not support without first coming forward with the plans, including costs, and ultimate buy-in from the public before moving forward. A pedestrian bridge project comes to mind. The latest iteration of this Council’s answer to problems at the Fills also comes to mind.
Thursday’s meeting includes important presentations (one on ethics, the other from the county’s Health Department), two committee reports, 21 agenda items with tabs.
But, wait, there’s more.
At the end of the meeting several discussion items have been added, with no details provided, related to reserving affordable housing allocations, Council rules and meeting protocols. The last item of the evening – likely pushing into the wee hours of Friday morning – will be yet another discussion about BPAS and a moratorium on new development. Editor’s Note: Shouldn’t those two discussions happen before voting on BPAS allocations and new projects?
Long meetings, ill-conceived development being rammed through, and priorities too often discussed late at night after the public is gone or can barely keep their eyes open.
This is no way to run a household, an organization, or a town. This is inexcusable.